Industrial Emissions Directive: EU Wastewater Sector Impact

Europe's regulatory environment for wastewater treatment has undergone significant changes in the last few years. Two significant pieces, the Industrial Emissions Directive and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, have recently been revised to better align with the European Green Deal, which aims to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. The two revised directives await publication, after which member states are expected to translate them into local legislation. What does this spell for wastewater utilities and sludge treatment in Europe and around the globe?

EU regulations affecting the wastewater sector: A status update

Several EU policies and directives affect the wastewater industry. As Europe is one of the most stringent continents in the world regarding environmental legislation, these policies are important not just within the continent but also set benchmarks around the globe. Two directives that have undergone significant revisions recently are the Industrial Emissions Directive and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.

  • The Industrial Emissions Directive, also known as IED or Directive 2010/75/EU, aims to control environmental pollution by setting limits for emissions to water, air, and land, specifically for industrial establishments. The EU first adopted it in 2010, but proposals to revise it alongside the Industrial Emissions Portal (IEP) were initiated in 2022 and adopted by the EU Council in April 2024. This directive aligns with a key target of the European Green Deal for zero pollution

        The final publication, or the last step before member states translate the directive into local laws, is expected soon.

  • The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, or UWWTD, on the other hand, sets standards for wastewater treatment in urban areas in the EU. It was originally adopted in 1991 as Directive 91/271/EEC. Amendments were made in 1998 and throughout the 2000s, but a revision was proposed in 2021. The relevant committees and groups have already reached a provisional agreement on the revised directive, and it is now in the last stages of approval. 

        The revised UWWTD is set to be published in the second half of 2024.

Other directives that interact with these two directives and affect the wastewater industry include the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), the Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC) and the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (2008/105/EC).

Strengthening enforcement and reporting for industrial emission limits

A clear distinction must first be made before delving further into the implications of the IED for the wastewater sector. The IED, in its current form, only clearly regulates independently owned wastewater treatment facilities – these are facilities owned by one or more industrial entities that typically process only the facility's/facilities’ wastewater. It is unclear yet how governments will apply the IED to industries that outsource their wastewater treatment to a utility that services a greater area or municipality. What is clear is that municipal wastewater treatment plants are covered by the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.

Though industrial installations may not be as large as municipalities, they significantly impact water bodies. In fact, these facilities are responsible for 20% of pollutant emissions into water and the air and about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions within the EU. The pollutants most commonly regulated by the IED include:

  • Arsenic
  • Biological oxygen demand for 5 days (BOD5)
  • Cadmium
  • Chemical oxygen demand (COD)
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Nickel
  • Total Nitrogen (N)
  • Total organic carbon (TOC)
  • Total phosphorus (P)
  • Total suspended solids (TSS)
  • Zinc

Municipal wastewater treatment plants that accept industrial wastewater for treatment also typically struggle with certain industrial pollutants. These include heavy metals, AOX or Halogenated Organic Compounds, Barium, Benzene, Chlorine, and phenols.

Though the Industrial Emissions Directive’s original version was released in 2010, compliance with the directive has not been satisfactory. Which is why the revisions to the IED are crucial, namely:

  • Requirements for member states to apply more effective penalties for non-compliance. Serious infringements will require payment of up to at least 3% of Union turnover.
  • An upgrade of the existing industrial emissions portal to make it more comprehensive and improve environmental reporting
  • Better opportunities for the public to participate in permit reviews
  • More flexible permits for facilities that use emerging technologies to foster innovation

With better implementation, increased transparency, and emissions reporting, industrial installations must ensure that the technologies they have in place for wastewater treatment sufficiently reduce the emissions of certain substances down to the prescribed thresholds. This is likely to mean increased collaboration for industries that outsource their wastewater treatment to municipal utilities. The directive's stringent requirements will likely drive the adoption of new technologies at wastewater treatment plants to reduce environmental impact.

A new scope and energy neutrality target for EU wastewater treatment

The UWWTD and its recent revision are crucial to the industry's future development alongside the IED. The changes made to the directive acknowledge that wastewater treatment is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and introduce a 2045 deadline for energy neutrality within the industry.

The revisions to the UWWTD also include:

  • The requirement to establish urban wastewater collecting systems will be broadened to include all communities with at least 1,000 residents, previously set at 2,000.
  • The removal of organic matter from effluent before it's discharged into water bodies will increasingly become more stringent for utilities of specific sizes.
  • Pharmaceutical and cosmetic producers will bear part of the treatment costs under an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme.
  • New monitoring requirements will include tracking PFAS or similar pollutants, microplastics, and certain viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, in urban wastewater.

Many wastewater utilities and municipalities have already communicated plans for energy neutrality within the directive's target years. A focus on efficiency and good energy balance, in combination with waste reduction, are seemingly good bets in achieving these ambitions. Some wastewater plants have essentially transformed into nutrient recovery facilities, harvesting increased energy from sewage sludge via advanced anaerobic digestion.   


The EU’s goal of becoming the first climate-neutral continent brings the rest of the world to a different era of environmental responsibility. An era that, frankly, is overdue. The revised industrial emissions and urban wastewater treatment directive are significant pieces of this greener puzzle.

With both the IED and the UUWTD’s new versions approaching local adoption, wastewater utilities can view the oncoming pressures as opportunities to rethink strategies and reintroduce their undeniable value in society.

Find out how CambiTHP is helping wastewater utilities worldwide modernise sewage sludge treatment to achieve environmental benefits. See some of Cambi’s references around the world.  

14 May 2024


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