EU Environmental Policy Overview

Objectives and principles for the implementation of environmental policy in the EU are set out in the Treaty on European Community, Head XIX.

The EU Environment Acquis includes more than 200 legislative acts under the following ten broad categories.

  1. Horizontal (environmental impact assessments, access to information, strategic environmental assessment, public participation, and environmental liability);
  2. Air Quality (ambient air, VOCs from petrol stations, SO2, NOx, particulate and lead emissions; Sulphur content in Fuel, Vehicle emissions, Emission Trading, Emission Ceilings, Ambient Ozone);
  3. Waste Management (hazardous waste, packaging waste, sewerage sludge, waste oils disposal, PCBs/PCTs, battery disposal and labeling, landfill of waste, incineration of waste, disposal of vehicles, waste electronics disposal, hazardous substances);
  4. Water Quality (Urban Wastewater, Drinking Water, Nitrates, Bathing Water, Groundwater, Dangerous Substances to water, Mercury, Cadmium, HCH Discharges, Surface Water Abstraction, Shellfish water, Fish water);
  5. Nature Protection (Habitats, Wild Birds, Zoos);
  6. Industrial Pollution Control (Pollution Prevention and Control, Solvents, Large Combustion Plants);
  7. Chemicals (Dangerous Substances, Release of GMOs, Animal Experiments, Asbestos, Biocides);
  8. Noise
  9. Climate change
  10. Industrial risk management and civil defence.

The number of directives is large — but in practice, many functions can be integrated and use common management systems. 

This section provides an overview of the EU environmental policy in the following fields:

Air Quality

The EU strategies and legislation covers most, but not all elements of air quality assessment and management system. Certain issues are regulated by the EU and are binding for all Member States (e.g. definitions, air quality standards, rules for assessment, emission limit values, reporting, permitting procedures) while others are to be provided by national legislation (e.g. institutional setting or economic instruments). From the regulatory point of view, the Community legislation sets the basic standards mandatory for all Member States but often allows Member States to lay down more stringent requirements at the national level (provided that requirements do not create barrier to the Joint Internal Market).

The content of this section is based on the information materials developed in the framework of the project “Air Quality Governance in ENPI East Countries” (EuropeAid/129522/C/SER/Multi). More information on this project is available here

The 6th Environment Action Plan of the European Community 2002 – 2012 (6EAP) represents the basic general environmental policy document. Under the priority area Environment and Health, the following air quality related measures are envisaged:

  • improving the monitoring and assessment of air quality, including the deposition of pollutants, and the provision of information to the public, including the development and use of indicators;
  • strengthening a coherent and integrated policy on air pollution to cover priorities for further actions, the review and updating where appropriate of air quality standards and national emission ceilings with a view to reach the long term objective of no-exceedance of critical loads and levels and the development of better systems for gathering information, modelling and forecasting;
  • adopting appropriate measures concerning ground-level ozone and particulates;

As prepared in accordance with the 6th Action Plan, the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution represents the main strategic document in the field of air quality assessment and management.

The priority impacts addressed by the Thematic Strategy are:

  • Health impact: Fine particles (PM2.5) and ozone,
  • Acidification (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonium) and Eutrophication (nitrogen deposition above the critical loads),
  • Non health impact of ground level ozone on vegetation.

The priority measures following the Thematic Strategy are:

  • Euro 5 standards for cars and vans,
  • Euro VI standards for HDV,
  • Revision of national emission ceilings,
  • Regulation of small scale combustion installations,
  • Reduction of ammonium emissions from agriculture,
  • Revision of air quality legislation.

The Thematic Strategy laid down the policy background for the “new generation” of legislation, namely new Air Quality Framework Directive (2008/50/EC) and new IPPC Directive (2010/75/EU) as well as for on-going revision of the National Emission Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC).

On 18 December 2013, the European Commission adopted a Clean Air Policy Package. This package was based on an extensive review of the EU air policy to date. This policy package includes a Clean Air Programme for Europe, as well as a proposal for Directives on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants (the NEC Directive) and on limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants (the MCP Directive).

Air quality assessment

Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (Air Quality Framework Directive) creates a framework for air quality assessment at the Community level and repeals and replaces the previous Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC), three “daughter directives” (1999/30/EC, 2000/69/EC, 2002/3/EC) and Council Decision 97/101/EC. The main provisions are:

  • Air quality limit values for the protection of human health with mandatory compliance deadlines of 2005 or 2010 (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, PM10, carbon monoxide, benzene and lead),
  • Critical levels for the protection of vegetation (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides),
  • Target values for the protection of human health and of vegetation with conditional compliance deadline in 2010 for ground level ozone,
  • Alert thresholds for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone,
  • Information threshold for ozone,
  • Long-term objective for the protection of human health and of vegetation for ozone,
  • Quantified requirements for PM2.5 with gradual deadlines up to 2020 (national exposure reduction target, exposure concentration obligation, target value, limit value),
  • Detailed rules for air quality assessment (upper and lower assessment thresholds, measurement, modelling, combination, data quality objectives),
  • Detailed rules for measurement (number and siting of sampling points, reference methods),
  • Establishment of zones and agglomerations,
  • Preparation of air quality plans and short-term action plans and (including their detailed content),
  • Information to be available to the public.

Directive 2008/50/EC is supplemented by the Directive 2004/107/EC relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air, which provides for target values for As, Cd, Ni and benzo(a)pyren as marker of PAHs with conditional compliance deadline is 31.12.2012. In the case of Hg, no target value is laid down but measurements are required. Other provisions are similar to those provided for by the Directive 2008/50/EC (rules of assessment, zones and agglomerations, siting and number of sampling points, data quality objectives, reference methods). The difference between “limit values” and “target values” is presented in Box below:

Definitions for the purpose of air quality standards in the EU 

  • ‘limit value’ shall mean a level fixed on the basis of scientific knowledge, with the aim of avoiding, preventing or reducing harmful effects on human health and/or the environment as a whole, to be attained within a given period and not to be exceeded once attained;
  • ‘target value’ shall mean a level fixed with the aim of avoiding, preventing or reducing harmful effects on human health and/or the environment as a whole, to be attained where possible over a given period;
  • ‘long-term objective’ shall mean a level to be attained in the long term, save where not achievable through proportionate measures, with the aim of providing effective protection of human health and the environment;
  • ‘critical level’ shall mean a level fixed on the basis of scientific knowledge, above which direct adverse effects may occur on some receptors, such as trees, other plants or natural ecosystems but not on humans;
  • ‘alert threshold’ shall mean a level beyond which there is a risk to human health from brief exposure for the population as a whole and at which immediate steps are to be taken by the Member States;

Source: Directive 2008/50/EC

Air Quality Management

At the “macro-level”, the Directive (EU) 2016/2284 on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants reflects the UNECE CLRTAP Protocol to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone (updated version of  Gothenburg Protocol) and lays down national emission ceilings for relevant pollutants. These national emission ceilings are to be complied with by 2020 and 2030. In addition, the Member States are required to prepare regular emission inventories and projections and to adopt National Emission Reduction Programs.

At the “micro-level”, the Directive 2010/75/EU on Industrial emissions (IPPC) represents the major regulatory tool for certain important stationary sources (large combustion plants, waste incinerators, installations using organic solvents, installations within the scope of former IPPC Directive). This directive gradually repeals and replaces 7 directives: Directive 96/61/EC concerning integrated pollution prevention and control ( Directive 2008/1/EC), Directive 1999/13/EC on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations (as amended by the Directive 2004/42/EC), Directive 2000/76/EC on the incineration of waste, Directive 2001/80/EC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants and three directives concerning titanium dioxide industry (78/176/EEC, 82/883/EEC and 92/112/EEC). The main provisions are:

  • Emission limit values and technical requirements for operation of large combustion plants (dust, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide), waste incinerators and co-incineration plants, installations using organic solvents, titanium dioxide industry,
  • Rules of integrated permitting for large combustion plants, waste incinerators an co-incineration plants, installations using organic solvents, titanium dioxide production installations and other important industrial and agricultural installations,
  • Best available techniques (BAT), BAT reference documents (BREFs), BAT conclusions.

Besides the IPPC directives, the Directive 2004/42/EC on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to use of organic solvents in certain paints and varnishes lays down maximum VOC limit values for paints, varnishes and refinishing products and provides for labelling and for placing on the market of such products.

Several directives provide for quality of fuels, in particular:

  • Directive 2009/30/EC as regards the specification of petrol, diesel and gas-oil and introducing a mechanism to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emission, amending Directives 98/70/EC and 1999/32/EC and repealing Directive 93/12/EEC,

– Directive 2003/17/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels.

Distribution of petrol is regulated by the Directive 94/63/EC on the control of VOC emissions resulting from the storage of petrol and its distribution from terminals to service stations and Directive 2009/126/EC on Stage II petrol vapour recovery during refuelling of motor vehicles at service stations.

In the case of mobile sources, the emission from both road vehicles and non-road mobile machinery are regulated by the following main directives:

  • Directive 2005/55/EC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the measures to be taken against the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from compression-ignition engines for use in vehicles, and the emission of gaseous pollutants from positive-ignition engines fuelled with natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas for use in vehicles,
  • Directive 2002/88/EC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to measures against the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from internal combustion engines to be installed in non-road mobile machinery, amending Directive 97/68/EC.

In addition to the transposition of requirements laid down by the above mention directives, particular Member States adopt additional legal requirements to cover stationary sources which are not regulated at the Community level (mainly emission limit values for combustion plants below 50 MW and for industrial and agricultural installations). German Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control (TA Luft) is a leading example of such national “approach”.

Besides the directives which provide for air quality management explicitly, the implementation of certain directives in the field of climate change mitigation and energy efficiency may lead to considerable reduction of air pollution, in particular:

  • Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings,
  • Directive 2006/32/EC on energy end-use efficiency and energy services.

Finally, several “horizontal” legal acts are relevant from the point of view of air quality assessment and management, in particular:

  • Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, as amended by the Directives 97/11/EC, 2003/35/EC and 2009/31/EC (EIA),
  • Directive 2007/2/EC establishing an infrastructure for Spatial information in the European Community (INSPIRE),
  • Directive 2004/35/EC on environmental liability with regards to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage,
  • Directive 2001/41/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain programs and plans on the environment (SEA),
  • Directive 2003/35/EC providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programs relating to the environment,
  • Directive 2003/4/EC on public access to environmental information.

At the EU level, the main authority active in air quality assessment and management is the European Commission. DG Environment drafts strategic documents and legislation. Certain role is also played by DG Mobility and transport, DG Energy, DG Climate Action and DG Research and Innovations.

The European Environment Agency is the main supporting body which collects, processes and disseminates information and prepares state and outlook reports.

The Community legislation provides for certain types of regulatory instruments, mostly of the command-and-control type, in particular:

  • air quality standards (see Box above),
  • emission limit values for certain pollutants and certain technologies (limited number of both),
  • generally binding technical requirements for the operation of certain stationary sources,
  • automatic emission control measurements by installation’ operators,
  • fuel quality standards,
  • emission requirements for road vehicles and non-road machinery,
  • standards for certain products.

Economic or market based instruments in the field of air quality management are not provided for at the Community level.

As for voluntary instruments, EMAS (Eco-management and Audit Scheme) or eco-labelling  may be relevant to air quality management.

The EU legislation provides especially for detailed rules of permitting and of enforcement without dealing with specific institutional arrangement. At the EU level, institutions active in implementation and enforcement are organized in the organization IMPEL (European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law), which can be joint by any national, regional or local authority which is competent for the implementation or enforcement of EU environmental law, e.g. ministries, regulators, agencies and inspectorates, provided that the authority is based in a Member State of the European Union, in an acceding or candidate country of the European Union or in an EEA country. Current list of IMPEL members presented bellow shows the diversity of institutional arrangements in particular Member States:

  • Ministry (e.g. Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain)
  • National inspectorate (e.g. Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia)
  • Agency (e.g. Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, UK)
  • Other (e.g. Belgium)

Both EU as a whole and all Member states are parties to all relevant MEAs, mainly to the CLRTAP and all its protocols.

Circular Economy

A circular economy is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling. This is in contrast to a linear economy which is a ‘take, make, dispose’ model of production.

EU 2018 Circular Economy Package

As part of its continuous effort to transform Europe’s economy into a more sustainable one and to implement the ambitious Circular Economy Action Plan, in January 2018 the European Commission adopted a new set of measures, including:

Climate Change

The European Union (EU) has long claimed, with some justification, to be a leader in international climate policy. Its policy activities in this area, dating from the early 1990s, have had enormous influence within and beyond Europe. The period since ca. 2000 in particular has witnessed the repeated emergence of policies and targets that are increasingly distinct from national ones and sometimes globally innovative.

EU was and is actively participating in all key climate negotiations including:

  • UN climate convention
  • Paris Agreement
  • Kyoto Protocol
  • UNFCCC meetings-
  1. Conferences of the Parties (COP)
  2. Meetings of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)
  3. Subsidiary bodies
  4. Other international fora
  5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  6. G8 and G20
  7. Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF)
  8. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
  9. International Energy Agency (IEA).

More information here:

The EU has set itself targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions progressively up to 2050, where EU should cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels. To accomplish it, there are set climate and energy targets for 2020 and for 2030. These targets are defined to put the EU on the way to achieve the transformation towards a low-carbon economy.

For the year 2020 there are three set key targets:

  • 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels);
  • 20% of EU energy from renewables;
  • 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

For the year 2030 there are three set key targets:

  • At least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels);
  • At least 27% share for renewable energy;
  • At least 27% improvement in energy efficiency.

The EU is taking action in several areas to meet the targets – emissions trading system (ETS), national emission reduction, renewable energy, innovation and financing, energy efficiency.

More information here:

The EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) operates in 31 countries (all 28 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). The EU ETS is a cornerstone of the EU’s policy to combat climate change and its key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively. Set up in 2005, the EU ETS is the world’s first and biggest international emissions trading system, accounting for over three-quarters of international carbon trading. The EU ETS works on the ‘cap and trade’ principle.

A cap is set on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by installations covered by the system. The cap is reduced over time so that total emissions fall. Within the cap, companies receive or buy emission allowances which they can trade with one another as needed. Trading brings flexibility that ensures emissions are cut where it costs least to do so. A robust carbon price also promotes investment in clean, low-carbon technologies.

It is planned that:

  • In 2020, emissions from sectors covered by the system will be 21% lower than in 2005;
  • In 2030, under the Commission’s proposal, they would be 43% lower.

More information here:

The Effort Sharing legislation establishes binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for Member States for the periods 2013–2020 and 2021–2030. These targets concern emissions from most sectors not included in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste.

The Effort Sharing Decision forms part of the EU’s climate and energy policy framework for 2020. It sets national emission targets for 2020, expressed as percentage changes from 2005 levels. It also lays down how the annual emission allocations (AEAs) in tonnes for each year from 2013 to 2020 are to be calculated and defines flexibilities.

The Regulation on binding annual emission reductions by Member States from 2021 to 2030 (Effort Sharing Regulation) adopted in 2018 is part of the Energy Union strategy and the EU’s implementation of the Paris Agreement. It sets national emission reduction targets for 2030 for all Member States, ranging from 0% to -40% from 2005 levels.

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New technology development is essential to enable Europe to meet EU and global climate change objectives. It is also a major contributor towards the EU’s innovation, jobs and growth agenda.  New and innovative low carbon technologies help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new employment and growth.

As well as taking a leading global role in the development of low-carbon technology, the EU also supports the uptake of low-carbon technology internationally, in the places where it is most needed. The EU initiated the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF), an innovative global risk capital fund that will use limited public money to mobilise private investment in small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in developing countries and economies in transition. It is both a development tool and a contribution to global efforts to fight climate change. It is concrete proof of Europe’s commitment to transfer clean technologies to developing countries.

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Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of air pollution in cities. The transport sector has not seen the same gradual decline in emissions as other sectors: emissions only started to decrease in 2007 and still remain higher than in 1990. Within this sector, road transport is by far the biggest emitter accounting for more than 70% of all GHG emissions from transport in 2014.

With the global shift towards a low-carbon, circular economy already underway, the Commission’s low-emission mobility strategy, aims to ensure Europe stays competitive and able to respond to the increasing mobility needs of people and goods. By midcentury, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will need to be at least 60% lower than in 1990 and be firmly on the path towards zero.

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EU legislation to protect the ozone layer is among the strictest and most advanced in the world. The international community established the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer in 1987. Policies put in place by the EU and its Member States often go beyond the requirements of the Montreal Protocol.

The Ozone Regulation is the cornerstone of EU legislation to protect the ozone layer.  Objectives of the Ozone Regulation:

  • Fulfil the obligations of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer to which the EU and its Member States are parties;
  • Where technically and economically feasible, ensure higher level of ambition in the EU.

This is achieved by:

  • Prohibiting all uses of ozone-depleting substances for which alternatives are feasible;
  • Controlling and monitoring exempted uses of ozone-depleting substances where alternatives are not feasible;
  • Controlling and monitoring other ozone-depleting substances which are not regulated under the Montreal Protocol but have the most significant impact on the ozone layer.

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Forests and agricultural lands currently cover more than three-quarters of the EU’s territory and naturally hold large stocks of carbon, preventing its escape into the atmosphere. Draining of peat land, felling of forest or ploughing up grassland generates emissions, while actions such as afforestation or conversion of arable land into grassland can protect carbon stocks or result in carbon sequestration. EU Member States have to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land use change or forestry are offset by at least an equivalent removal of CO₂ from the atmosphere in the period 2021 to 2030.The Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) implements the agreement between EU that all sectors should contribute to the EU’s 2030 emission reduction target, including the land use sector. Also there has been established the REDD+ initiative at international level to combat deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics, where the vast majority of forest destruction takes place. REDD+ also has major implications for agriculture (the source of another 12% of global GHG emissions), rural development and adaptation to climate change in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.

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Fluorinated gases (‘F-gases’) are a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications. Because they do not damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. However, F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming effect up to 23 000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their emissions are rising strongly. The European Union is therefore taking regulatory action to control F-gases as part of its policy to combat climate change. By 2030 it will cut the EU’s F-gas emissions by two-thirds compared with 2014 levels. This represents a fair and cost-efficient contribution by the F-gas sector to the EU’s objective of cutting its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% of 1990 levels by 2050.The expected cumulative emission savings are 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2030 and 5 gigatonnes by 2050.

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Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. Adaptation strategies are needed at all levels of administration: at the local, regional, national, EU and also the international level. Due to the varying severity and nature of climate impacts between regions in Europe, most adaptation initiatives will be taken at the regional or local levels. The ability to cope and adapt also differs across populations, economic sectors and regions within Europe. The Commission adopted an EU adaptation strategy which has been welcomed by the Member States. Complementing the activities of Member States, the strategy supports action by promoting greater coordination and information-sharing between Member States, and by ensuring that adaptation considerations are addressed in all relevant EU policies.

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The EU budget supports EU climate objectives through most budget programmes. DG Climate Action focusses on two aspects:

  • Supporting the lead services in integrating climate action into the various EU spending programmes, including the achievement of the target of making at least 20% of the EU budget climate related;
  • Managing a €864 million programme (LIFE climate action) to develop and implement innovative ways to respond to climate challenges.

In addition to the EU budget resources, DG CLIMA also manages the NER 300 programme for innovative low-carbon energy demonstration projects.

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At European level a comprehensive package of policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been initiated through the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). Each of the EU Member States has also put in place its own domestic actions that build on the ECCP measures or complement them.

First European Climate Change Programme. The European Commission established the ECCP in 2000 to help identify the most environmentally effective and most cost-effective policies and measures that can be taken at European level to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The immediate goal was to help ensure that the EU meets its target for reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. This requires the countries that were EU members before 2004 to cut their combined emissions of greenhouse gases to 8% below the 1990 level by 2012.

Second European Climate Change Programme. The Second European Climate Change Programme (ECCP II) has explored further cost-effective options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in synergy with the EU’s Lisbon strategy’ for increasing economic growth and job creation. New working groups have been established, covering carbon capture and geological storage, CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles, emissions from aviation, and adaptation to the effects of climate change.

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Waste Management

EU waste management legislative system

The EU has some of the world’s highest environmental standards, developed over decades. Environment policy helps the EU economy become more environmentally friendly, protects Europe’s natural resources, and safeguards the health and wellbeing of people living in the EU.

In EU well developed legislative system for management of waste covers several aspects of waste management:

  1. General framework  legislation on waste management;
  2. Requirements of waste management operations;
  3. Legislation on specific waste streams;
  4. Legislation on requirements on reporting and questionnaire.

General framework  legislation on waste management

General framework legislation specifies sets the basic concepts and definitions related to waste management, such as definitions of waste, recycling, recovery. It explains when waste ceases to be waste and becomes a secondary raw material (so called end-of-waste criteria), and how to distinguish between waste and by-products. As well legislation establishes the classification system for wastes, including a distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. Legislation specifies under which conditions waste can be shipped between countries.

Waste management planning is the cornerstone of any national, regional or local policy on waste management. The establishment of a plan allows taking stock of the existing situation, defining the objectives that need to be met, formulating appropriate strategies, and identifying the necessary implementation means. The drawing up of waste management plans is an obligation of EU Member States. Member States can ask the regional or local authorities to draw up regional or local plans. The plans shall cover the entire geographical territory of a Member State.

Some basic administrative rules concerning waste management planning:

  • Waste management plans need to be evaluated at least every sixth year and revised as appropriate;
  • Relevant stakeholders and authorities and the general public must have an opportunity to participate in the elaboration of the plans, and have access to them once elaborated. The plans shall be placed on a publicly available website;
  • Member States shall inform the Commission of the waste management plans, once adopted, and of any substantial revisions to the plans.

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Waste stream can be separated by following:

– Batteries;

The EU legislation on waste batteries is embodied in the Batteries Directive. It intends to contribute to the protection, preservation and improvement of the quality of the environment by minimising the negative impact of batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators.

– Biodegradable waste;

Currently the main environmental threat from biowaste (and other biodegradable waste) is the production of methane from such waste decomposing in landfills, which accounted for some 3% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU in 1995. The Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) obliges Member States to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that they landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2016 (for some countries by 2020) which will significantly reduce this problem.

– Construction and demolition waste (CDW);

CDW has been identified as a priority waste stream by the European Union. There is a high potential for recycling and re-use of CDW, since some of its components have a high resource value.

– RoHS in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE);

EU legislation restricting the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and promoting the collection and recycling of such equipment has been in force since February 2003. The legislation provides for the creation of collection schemes where consumers return their used waste EEE free of charge.

– Waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE);

The WEEE Directive (Directive 2002/96/EC) provided for the creation of collection schemes where consumers return their WEEE free of charge. These schemes aim to increase the recycling of WEEE and/or re-use.

– End of life vehicles (ELV);

Directive 2000/53/EC (the “ELV Directive”) on end-of life vehicles aims at making dismantling and recycling of ELVs more environmentally friendly. It sets clear quantified targets for reuse, recycling and recovery of the ELVs and their components.

– Mining;

Waste from extractive operations (i.e. waste from extraction and processing of mineral resources) is one of the largest waste streams in the EU. Wastes from the extractive industries have therefore to be properly managed in order to ensure in particular the long-term stability of disposal facilities and to prevent or minimise any water and soil pollution arising from acid or alkaline drainage and leaching of heavy metals.

– Packaging;

The Directive 94/62/EC aims at providing a high level of environmental protection and ensuring the functioning of the internal market by avoiding obstacles to trade and distortion and restriction of competition.

– Polychlorinated biphenyls and polychlorinated terphenyls (PCBs / PCTs);

Directive 96/59/EC on the disposal of PCBs and PCTs aims at disposing completely of PCBs and equipment containing PCBs as soon as possible.

– Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs);

The international community has called for actions to reduce and eliminate production, use and releases of these substances. There are two international legally binding instruments – The Protocol to the regional UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) on POPs and The global Stockholm Convention on POPs.

– Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC);

The Green Paper is a discussion document published by the Commission on this specific policy area. It is primarily addressed to all the parties (organisations and individuals) interested in the issues related to PVC.

– Sewage sludge;

The Sewage Sludge Directive 86/278/EEC seeks to encourage the use of sewage sludge in agriculture and to regulate its use in such a way as to prevent harmful effects on soil, vegetation, animals and man.

– Ship recycling;

Recycling of ships sailing under the flag of an EU Member State is governed by the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries. However, the existing legislation is not specifically designed for ships and is often circumvented.

– Titanium dioxide;

Existing Community legislation on waste from the titanium dioxide industry aims to prevent and progressively reduce pollution caused by waste from the titanium dioxide industry with a view to the elimination of such pollution.

– Waste oils;

Waste oils are governed by the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC, which stipulates that Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that waste oils are collected separately, where this is technically feasible, and are treated in accordance to legislation.

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Member States have various reporting obligations concerning implementation of waste legislation. The two main types of reports include:

  • Reporting on targets: annual (or bi-annual) reporting on the achievement of various targets for waste collection, re-use, recycling and / or recovery;
  • Implementation Reports: these three-annual reports are based on questionnaires established in Commission Decisions together with the Member States (see the list under “Legislation – Implementation Questionnaires” below), and cover the main aspects of implementation of waste legislation.

There are two ways of reporting:

  • Reporting on targets: These reports are sent directly to Eurostat, typically 18 months after the end of the given reporting period;
  • Implementation Reports: These reports are to be sent directly to the Commission’s DG Environment.

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Water Management

This section provides a brief overview of the water management system in the EU. The following key legal documents are in the cornerstone of the water management system:

  • Water Framework Directive (2000/60/)
  • Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC)
  • Bathing Water (2006/7/EC)
  • EU Flood Directive (2007/60/EC)               
  • Waste water Directive (91/271/EEC)
  • Industrial emissions Directive (2010/75/EU)
  • Nitrate Directive (91/676/EEC)

These are described in more detail below.

Information in this section is adopted from the European Commission website.

On 23 October 2000, the “Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the Community action in the field of water policy” or, in short, the EU Water Framework Directive (or even shorter the WFD) was finally adopted.

The outline below illustrates the key elements of the Directive.

A single system of water management: River basin management 

The best model for a single system of water management is management by river basin – the natural geographical and hydrological unit – instead of according to administrative or political boundaries. Initiatives taken forward by the States concerned for the Maas, Schelde or Rhine river basins have served as positive examples of this approach, with their cooperation and joint objective-setting across Member State borders, or in the case of the Rhine even beyond the EU territory.

Co-ordination of objectives – good status for all waters by a set deadline 

There are a number of objectives in respect of which the quality of water is protected. The key ones at European level are general protection of the aquatic ecology, specific protection of unique and valuable habitats, protection of drinking water resources, and protection of bathing water. All these objectives must be integrated for each river basin. It is clear that the last three – special habitats, drinking water areas and bathing water – apply only to specific bodies of water (those supporting special wetlands; those identified for drinking water abstraction; those generally used as bathing areas). In contrast, ecological protection should apply to all waters: the central requirement of the Treaty is that the environment be protected to a high level in its entirety.

Surface water

Ecological protection

For this reason, a general requirement for ecological protection, and a general minimum chemical standard, was introduced to cover all surface waters. These are the two elements “good ecological status” and “good chemical status”. Good ecological status is defined in terms of the quality of the biological community, the hydrological characteristics and the chemical characteristics. As no absolute standards for biological quality can be set which apply across the Community, because of ecological variability, the controls are specified as allowing only a slight departure from the biological community which would be expected in conditions of minimal anthropogenic impact. A set of procedures for identifying that point for a given body of water, and establishing particular chemical or hydromorphological standards to achieve it, is provided, together with a system for ensuring that each Member State interprets the procedure in a consistent way (to ensure comparability). The system is somewhat complicated, but this is inevitable given the extent of ecological variability, and the large number of parameters, which must be dealt with.

Chemical protection

Good chemical status is defined in terms of compliance with all the quality standards established for chemical substances at European level. The Directive also provides a mechanism for renewing these standards and establishing new ones by means of a prioritisation mechanism for hazardous chemicals. This will ensure at least a minimum chemical quality, particularly in relation to very toxic substances, everywhere in the Community.

Other uses

As mentioned above, the other uses or objectives for which water is protected apply in specific areas, not everywhere. Therefore, the obvious way to incorporate them is to designate specific protection zones within the river basin which must meet these different objectives. The overall plan of objectives for the river basin will then require ecological and chemical protection everywhere as a minimum, but where more stringent requirements are needed for particular uses, zones will be established and higher objectives set within them.

There is one other category of uses which does not fit into this picture. It is the set of uses which adversely affect the status of water but which are considered essential on their own terms – they are overriding policy objectives. The key examples are flood protection and essential drinking water supply, and the problem is dealt with by providing derogations from the requirement to achieve good status for these cases, so long as all appropriate mitigation measures are taken. Less clear-cut cases are navigation and power generation, where the activity is open to alternative approaches (transport can be switched to land, other means of power generation can be used). Derogations are provided for those cases also, but subject to three tests: that the alternatives are technically impossible, that they are prohibitively expensive, or that they produce a worse overall environmental result.


Chemical status

The case of groundwater is somewhat different. The presumption in relation to groundwater should broadly be that it should not be polluted at all. For this reason, setting chemical quality standards may not be the best approach, as it gives the impression of an allowed level of pollution to which Member States can fill up. A very few such standards have been established at European level for particular issues (nitrates, pesticides and biocides), and these must always be adhered to. But for general protection, we have taken another approach. It is essentially a precautionary one. It comprises a prohibition on direct discharges to groundwater, and (to cover indirect discharges) a requirement to monitor groundwater bodies so as to detect changes in chemical composition, and to reverse any antropogenically induced upward pollution trend. Taken together, these should ensure the protection of groundwater from all contamination, according to the principle of minimum anthropogenic impact.

Quantitative status

Quantity is also a major issue for groundwater. Briefly, the issue can be put as follows. There is only a certain amount of recharge into a groundwater each year, and of this recharge, some is needed to support connected ecosystems (whether they be surface water bodies, or terrestrial systems such as wetlands). For good management, only that portion of the overall recharge not needed by the ecology can be abstracted – this is the sustainable resource, and the Directive limits abstraction to that quantity.

One of the innovations of the Directive is that it provides a framework for integrated management of groundwater and surface water for the first time at European level.

Co-ordination of measures 

There are a number of measures taken at Community level to tackle particular pollution problems. Key examples are the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Nitrates Directive, which together tackle the problem of eutrophication (as well as health effects such as microbial pollution in bathing water areas and nitrates in drinking water); and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, which deals with chemical pollution. The aim is to co-ordinate the application of these so as to meet the objectives established above. This is done as follows.

First of all, the objectives are established for the river basin as outlined in the previous section. Then an analysis of human impact is conducted so as to determine how far from the objective each body of water is. At this point, the effect on the problems of each body of water of full implementation of all existing legislation is considered. If the existing legislation solves the problem, well and good, and the objective of the framework Directive is attained. However, if it does not, the Member State must identify exactly why, and design whatever additional measures are needed to satisfy all the objectives established. These might include stricter controls on polluting emissions from industry and agriculture, or urban waste water sources, say. This should ensure full co-ordination.

The river basin management plan 

All the elements described above must be set out in a plan for the river basin. The plan is a detailed account of how the objectives set for the river basin (ecological status, quantitative status, chemical status and protected area objectives) are to be reached within the timescale required. The plan has to include all the results of the above analysis: the river basin’s characteristics, a review of the impact of human activity on the status of waters in the basin, estimation of the effect of existing legislation and the remaining “gap” to meeting these objectives; and a set of measures designed to fill the gap. One additional component is that an economic analysis of water use within the river basin must be carried out. This is to enable there to be a rational discussion on the cost-effectiveness of the various possible measures. It is essential that all interested parties are fully involved in this discussion, and indeed in the preparation of the river basin management plan as a whole.

Public participation 

In getting our waters clean, the role of citizens and citizens’ groups will be crucial.

There are two main reasons for an extension of public participation. The first is that the decisions on the most appropriate measures to achieve the objectives in the river basin management plan will involve balancing the interests of various groups. The economic analysis requirement is intended to provide a rational basis for this, but it is essential that the process is open to the scrutiny of those who will be affected.

The second reason concerns enforceability. The greater the transparency in the establishment of objectives, the imposition of measures, and the reporting of standards, the greater the care Member States will take to implement the legislation in good faith, and the greater the power of the citizens to influence the direction of environmental protection, whether through consultation or, if disagreement persists, through the complaints procedures and the courts.

Getting the prices right 

The need to conserve adequate supplies of a resource for which demand is continuously increasing is also one of the drivers behind what is arguably one of the Directives’s most important innovations – the introduction of pricing. Adequate water pricing acts as an incentive for the sustainable use of water resources and thus helps to achieve the environmental objectives under the Directive.

Member States are required to ensure that the price charged to water consumers – such as for the abstraction and distribution of fresh water and the collection and treatment of waste water – reflects the true costs.

The Drinking Water Directive (Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption) concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption. Its objective is to protect human health from adverse effects of any contamination of water intended for human consumption by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean.

The Drinking Water Directive applies to:

  • all distribution systems serving more than 50 people or supplying more than 10 cubic meter per day, but also distribution systems serving less than 50 people/supplying less than 10 cubic meter per day if the water is supplied as part of an economic activity;
  • drinking water from tankers;
  • drinking water in bottles or containers;
  • water used in the food-processing industry, unless the competent national authorities are satisfied that the quality of the water cannot affect the wholesomeness of the foodstuff in its finished form.

The Directive laid down the essential quality standards at EU level. A total of 48 microbiological, chemical and indicator parameters must be monitored and tested regularly. In general, World Health Organization’s guidelines for drinking water and the opinion of the Commission’s Scientific Advisory Committee are used as the scientific basis for the quality standards in the drinking water.

Principles laid in the Directive are:

  • Planning
  • Regulation (obligations of the Member States and the Commission)
  • Monitoring
  • Information and Reporting

On 1 February 2018 the European Commission adopted a proposal for a revised drinking water directive to improve the quality of drinking water and provide greater access and information to citizens.

Main elements:

  • The proposal updates existing safety standards in line with latest recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and ensure our drinking water is safe to use for the decades to come.
  • It will empower authorities to better deal with risks to water supply and engage with polluters.
  • It will empower consumers by giving them much more information and oversight over the efficiency and effectiveness of water suppliers.
  • It contributes to the transition to a circular economy. It will help EU countries to manage drinking water in a resource-efficient and sustainable manner so as to reduce energy use and unnecessary water loss. It will also help reduce the number of plastic bottles following increased confidence in tap water, improved access and promotion of use of drinking water.

Since the 1970s, the EU has had rules in place to safeguard public health and clean bathing waters. The revised Bathing Water Directive (BWD) of 2006 updated and simplified these rules. It requires Members States to monitor and assess the bathing water for at least two parameters of (faecal) bacteria. In addition, they must inform the public about bathing water quality and beach management, through the so-called bathing water profiles. These profiles contain for instance information on the kind of pollution and sources that affect the quality of the bathing water and are a risk to bathers’ health (such as waste water discharges).

Directive 2007/60/EC on the assessment and management of flood risks entered into force on 26 November 2007. This Directive now requires Member States to assess if all water courses and coast lines are at risk from flooding, to map the flood extent and assets and humans at risk in these areas and to take adequate and coordinated measures to reduce this flood risk. With this Directive also reinforces the rights of the public to access this information and to have a say in the planning process.

The Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste-water treatment was adopted on 21 May 1991. Its objective is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of urban waste water discharges and discharges from certain industrial sectors (Annex III of the Directive) and concerns the collection, treatment and discharge of:

  • Domestic waste water
  • Mixture of waste water
  • Waste water from certain industrial sectors (Annex III of the Directive)

Four main principles are laid down in the Directive:

  1. Planning
  2. Regulation
  3. Monitoring
  4. Information and reporting

Specifically the Directive requires:

  • The collection and treatment of waste water in all agglomerations of >2000 population equivalents (p.e.);
  • Secondary treatment of all discharges from agglomerations of > 2000 p.e., and more advanced treatment for agglomerations >10 000 population equivalents in designated sensitive areas and their catchments;
  • A requirement for pre-authorisation of all discharges of urban wastewater, of discharges from the food-processing industry and of industrial discharges into urban wastewater collection systems;
  • Monitoring of the performance of treatment plants and receiving waters; and
  • Controls of sewage sludge disposal and re-use, and treated waste water re-use whenever it is appropriate.

Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions (IED out the main principles for the permitting and control of installations based on an integrated approach and the application of best available techniques (BAT).  BAT is the most effective techniques to achieve a high level of environmental protection, taking into account the costs and benefits. The Directive sets our requirements also for control and minimisation of emissions into water.

The Nitrates Directive of 1991 (91/676/EEC) aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices.

The Nitrates Directive forms an integral part of the Water Framework Directive and is one of the key instruments in the protection of waters against agricultural pressures.


  1. Identification of water polluted, or at risk of pollution, such as:
  • surface freshwaters, in particular those used or intended for the abstraction of drinking water, containing or that could contain (if no action is taken to reverse the trend) a concentration of more than 50 mg/l of nitrates
  • groundwater containing or that could contain (if no action is taken to reverse the trend)  more than 50 mg/l of nitrates
  • freshwater bodies, estuaries, coastal waters and marine waters, found to be eutrophic or that could become eutrophic (if no action is taken to reverse the trend)
  1. Designation as “Nitrate Vulnerable Zones”(NVZs) of:
  • areas of land which drain into polluted waters or waters at risk of pollution and which contribute to nitrate pollution; or
  • Member States can also choose to apply measures (see below) to the whole territory (instead of designating NVZs).
  1. Establishment of Codes of Good Agricultural Practice to be implemented by farmers on a voluntary basis. Codes should include:
  • measures limiting the periods when nitrogen fertilizers can be applied on land in order to target application to periods when crops require nitrogen and prevent nutrient losses to waters;
  • measures limiting the conditions for fertilizer application (on steeply sloping ground, frozen or snow covered ground, near water courses, etc.) to prevent nitrate losses from leaching and run-off;
  • requirement for a minimum storage capacity for livestock manure; and
  • crop rotations, soil winter cover, and catch crops to prevent nitrate leaching and run-off during wet seasons.
  1. Establishment of action programmes to be implemented by farmers within NVZs on a compulsory basis. These programmes must include:
  • measures already included in Codes of Good Agricultural Practice, which become mandatory in NVZs; and
  • other measures, such as limitation of fertilizer application (mineral and organic), taking into account crop needs, all nitrogen inputs and soil nitrogen supply, maximum amount of livestock manure to be applied (corresponding to 170 kg nitrogen /hectare/year).
  1. National monitoring and reporting. Every four years Member States are required to report on:
  • Nitrates concentrations in groundwaters and surface waters;
  • Eutrophication  of surface waters;
  • Assessment of the impact of action programme(s) on water quality and agricultural practices;
  • Revision of NVZs and action programme(s)
  • Estimation of future trends in water quality.

Reports and studies

  • The 4-yearly reports produced by the Member States are used as the basis for a 4-yearly report by the European Commission on the implementation of the Directive.
  • In order to assist Member States in implementing the Directive and to extend scientific knowledge on best farming practices for protection of water quality and minimisation of nitrogen losses from agriculture, DG Environment also commissions studies on different aspects of the Nitrates Directive.