Cosmetics companies must pay to reduce water pollution under new EU rules

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

Draft rules are set to follow a "polluter pays principle” and companies will have to cover around 80% of the costs
Draft rules are set to follow a "polluter pays principle” and companies will have to cover around 80% of the costs

Related tags Regulations European union Cosmetics European commission Pollution Water Sustainability microplastics Environment circular beauty

The draft rules will follow a ‘polluter pays principle’, which means businesses will have to cover 80% of the extra clean-up costs.

Cosmetic companies in the European Union will be forced to pay more to clean up microplastic pollution after the EU announced a new deal to treat sewage, as part of the EU Green Deal. 

Draft rules that are set to follow a “polluter pays principle”, state that companies that sell cosmetics and medicines must cover at least 80% of the extra costs to remove tiny pollutants from urban wastewater, rather than it be funded by the local water tariffs or the public budget. The governments in each member state will then pay the rest of the sum as a contribution towards industry.

The EU’s environment commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said “With the agreement reached today, we ensure not only cleaner water for all Europeans but so much more – better access to sanitation, implementation of the polluter pays principle and energy autonomy,” he said. “These changes will completely revolutionise the sector and make it more resilient for decades to come.”

Polluter pays principle "not adequately respected" said Cosmetics Europe

As reported in CosmeticsDesign-Europein September​, beauty companies were already on track to have to finance additional costs for micropollutants in wastewater, but under the new draft rules that have been agreed by the European parliament and council, the requirements have been heightened and the areas covered by the law will broaden.

The agreement is like to be a blow to cosmetics companies, many of whom are already changing their business practices to better align with the EU Green Deal. 

In September, when the ENVI committee first voted for a report that would attribute extra costs to the cosmetics companies, industry body Cosmetics Europe said it had “a number of concerns about the report” highlighting that the impact assessment did not “provide clear scientific reasoning why the cosmetics industry has been chosen.”

Reacting to the latest news, Cosmetics Europe said while it takes note of the agreement, it "still questions the fairness of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system being put in place and ultimately its effectiveness in meeting the main objective of the Directive, which is to address water pollution."

It said that the impact assessment provided by the European Commission does not demonstrate clear scientific reasons as to why the cosmetics sector has been selected as the second largest polluter. It has referenced Cosmetics Europe's analysis​ as well as a study from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre that "provided data on the fact that cosmetics accounts for only around 1% of total toxic load."

It continued: "We regret that the outcome of this study has been disregarded and believe that with the sectorial approach not being based on sound scientific evidence, the 'Polluter Pays Principle' has not been adequately respected."

The news is also likely to widen the gap between environmental rules in the EU and UK since Brexit. There has also been a noticeably growing divide between other industry-related legislation – such as a hazard-based approach to chemicals legislation​ – which has been a growing issue between the two markets.

Under the new draft rules, for all communities in the EU with more than 1,000 people, the member states will have to remove organic matter from urban wastewater before releasing it into the environment by 2035.

And by 2045, they will have to remove nitrogen and phosphorus in all water treatment plants that cover more than 10,000 people.

They will also have to add an extra step to remove a “broad spectrum” of micropollutants.

The responsibility to monitor the waste water for microplastics, forever chemical’ per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), as well as factors like antimicrobial resistance, will fall onto the member state governments.

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