Ninth Report on the implementation status and the programmes for implementation (as required by Article 17) of Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water treatment
The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) is one of the key policy instruments under the EU water acquis for protecting the environment and human health. Progress in implementing the UWWTD over the past 25 years played a substantial role in improving the quality of waters in EU rivers, lakes and seas. This report is based on data collected from January to December 2014, based on the requirements of Art. 15 and 17 of the UWWTD. The report shows the countries that joined the EU since 2004 have made significant improvement in achieving the objectives. The complete report can be viewed here.
CHEM.ENGI operates its own ´green´agenda and therefore we would like to highlight information recorded in the report focusing specifically on environmentally reuse of sludge produced from municipal WWT plants.
Sewage sludge production and reuse
Based on 2014 data, some relevant facts and figures on sludge management can be highlighted:
- 8.7 M tonnes of dry solid matter of sludge were produced in the EU, representing approximately 17 kg per inhabitant;
- Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Portugal and Romania showed ratios below 10 kg per inhabitant, suggesting an insufficient level of collection and treatment;
58 % of the generated sludge was reused, mostly in agriculture.
The potential contribution to circular economy of the sector is significant:
- More than half of the P (phosphorus) removed from the waste water in treatment plants was reused or recycled.
- The quantity of N (nitrogen) and P recycled in the soil amounts to 250 000 tonnes respectively. With a value of EUR 1 300 per tonne for N and EUR 900 per tonne for phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5), the total value recycled from sewage sludge would reach EUR 550 M in 2014.
- 27 % of sludge is incinerated (mainly that which is generated in urban areas). This is mostly the case in Austria, Germany and Netherlands.
The development of digestion technology contributes, in parallel, to reducing sludge production while producing renewable energies (biogas).
Waste water reuse
The last reported information confirms the limited reuse of waste water: only eight Member States have signalled a regular reuse of part of their treated waste waters (Greece, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Spain, Belgium).Related data are not regularly collected and therefore not completely available. The percentage of treated waste water that is reused ranges from 0.08% in the UK to 97% in Cyprus, with an average of 2 % in the EU. Reuse mainly happens in agriculture, and occasionally in industry and aquifer feeding. Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania reported intentions to reuse waste water in future. Latvia and Austria explained that it is not necessary due to the large availability of freshwater. The remaining 14 Member States reported that they do not reuse their waste waters. In the context of its Communication ‘Closing the loop — An EU action plan for the circular economy, the Commission is preparing a legislative initiative to promote waste water reuse. This EU action would aim to enable cost-effective waste water reuse for agricultural irrigation, while ensuring a high level of protection for health and the environment.
Promoting Compliance – Funding Programmes
The Commission has set up several initiatives to support, encourage and ensure full implementation of the UWWTD. European funds, in particular the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund, have played a decisive role in implementing EU water policies. This support spans the last two decades and entails both financing and promoting an enabling policy framework: EUR 20.7 billion in 2000 - 2006 and EUR 21.9 billion in 2007-2013 were allocated to water investments. For 2014 - 2020, investments are concentrated in Member States with less developed regions. With allocations of EUR 14.8 billion, water is the most important environmental area of the cohesion policy. The focus is on wastewater treatment and drinking water supply, while also investing in water conservation, flood prevention and other water-related topics. This support leverages additional private funding and is complemented by other EU funding sources such as the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, LIFE and Horizon 2020. The largest share of the available budget, about EUR 10 billion, goes to wastewater treatment infrastructure, including the construction or upgrading of plants and sewerage networks, with some funding also going to sludge management. In 2014 - 2020, Member States are expected to connect 17 million people to new or upgraded wastewater treatment facilities, adding to the 7 million people connected between 2007 and 2013.
More than 25 years after the adoption of the UWWTD, significant progress towards full implementation was achieved by 2014. This has led to gradual but significant improvement in the quality of European waters. However, despite the generally high level of implementation of the UWWTD, a number of challenges remain, such as:
- Investing further in the waste water sector to increase or maintain implementation. There needs to be a special focus in some Member States still facing low implementation rates and more generally on more stringent treatment, combined with the need to ensure good operation and infrastructure maintenance.
- Gathering additional evidence on how IAS systems function.
- Improving the quality and recovery of sludge.
- Reducing the effects of storm water overflows polluting water bodies with untreated waste water. This can be achieved by promoting natural water retention systems; improving the management of the networks in connection with the treatment plants; additional investments (when needed).
- Improving the connections between the basic requirements of the UWWTD and the WFD, particularly when these requirements are not sufficient to achieve compliance with the water quality objectives set out in the WFD.
- Increasing the reuse of treated wastewater (in cases of water scarcity) while ensuring the appropriate water quality.
- Optimising the energy consumption of sanitation systems, producing renewable energy at treatment plant level (e.g. biogas) when possible.
- Ensuring the affordability of waste water services in the knowledge that the needs for investments in the water sector are broader than only for collection and treatment, as they also include drinking water, protection against floods and water availability in some regions.
- These challenges and other findings of the forthcoming evaluation will feed into the Commission's reflection on possible further action. In the meantime, specific attention will be given to Member States facing difficulties in implementing the Directive and the reporting activities will be improved to ensure suitable and timely data collection and assessment.
CHEM.ENGI mission is to help treating wastewater and sludge economically and in the most environmentally friendly ways. Our organic and biodegradable polymers dewater waste activated sludge and return the solids to the field without environment impact of the polymer. If you are interested in further details, free consultation or laboratory testing, please contact our team of chemists and technicians.