EU wants to make cosmetic, drug companies pay to remove microplastics

The European Union’s legislative bodies proposed a deal Monday that would hold pharmaceutical and beauty companies financially responsible for cleaning microplastics out of urban wastewater.

The provisional political agreement, approved by both the European Council and Parliament, would require producers of cosmetics, chemicals and medicines to cover at least 80% of the costs needed to get rid of the pollutants in the sewage treatment process. 

The companies will also cover the costs needed for gathering and verifying data on how their products impact wastewater under the proposal.

EU members have some flexibility in how the remainder of the costs would be covered, the announcement said. 

Communities with 150,000 people or more will need to have a tertiary treatment to remove nitrogen and phosphorus, and a quaternary treatment to remove the micropollutants, in place by 2039 and 2045, respectively. 

The co-legislators said they are assessing how these new rules could impact the accessibility and affordability of medicines, but did not mention looking into how they would impact the cost of personal care products. 

The revisions to the rules are part of the EU’s broader zero-pollution action plan and adds to its ban on intentionally adding microplastics to products last year. 

Experts describe microplastics as tiny plastic particles that result from both commercial product development and the breakdown of larger plastics. The particles can make their way into the air we breathe, the water we drink and even the food we consume — but their full impact on human health is still being studied. 

The 27 countries that make up the EU have been slow to enforce the sewage treatment rules that are already in place to decrease pollutants. According to The Guardian, the European Commission referred Spain to the European Court of Justice last month for failing to comply with wastewater rules in 225 of its communities.

That hasn’t altered the union’s ambitious goal of climate neutrality, which it believes urban wastewater treatment plays a big role in achieving. 

Next, the provisional agreement will be submitted to the EU members’ representatives with the European Council and to the European Parliament’s environment committee. If approved, the text of the new rules will need to be formally adopted by both institutions before it can be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enforced.