Sustainable Water Supply

From Open Risk Manual


Sustainable Water Supply is the provision of water, sewerage and waste management in a long-term sustainable manner

The sub-sector Water, Sewerage, Waste and Remediation (WSWR) covering NACE-Codes E36 to E39 contributes to a rather small share of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions – water with 0.2% and sewerage, waste, remediation with 4.4% in 2016. However, advanced solid waste management has a great potential to trigger greenhouse gas emission reductions in other sectors of the economy through waste prevention, separate waste collection, waste reuse and recycling.

What is covered

In the waste sector, a systems approach describing the climate mitigation effects of an integrated package of closely interrelated and combined environmentally sustainable activities would have its merits. As, however, the scope of the Taxonomy subgroup was to define stand-alone activities, the chosen climate mitigation principles, metrics and thresholds were formulated in a way to allow for the assessment of singular activities without consideration of their linkages in a complex waste management system (respectively, waste hierarchy).

The TEG and the experts involved assessed the nine NACE codes for WSWR and identified nine economic activities that offer a substantial contribution for climate mitigation:

  • E36.0.0 Water collection, treatment and supply: 1. Water collection, treatment and supply
  • E37.0.0 Sewerage: 2. Centralized wastewater treatment systems; 3. Anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge
  • E38.1.1 Collection of non-hazardous waste: 4. Separate collection and transport of non- hazardous waste in source segregated fractions
  • E38.1.2 Collection of hazardous waste: -
  • E38.2.1 Treatment and disposal of non-hazardous waste: 5. Anaerobic digestion of bio-waste; 6. Composting of bio-waste
  • E38.2.2 Treatment and disposal of hazardous waste: -
  • E38.3.1 Dismantling of wrecks: -
  • E38.3.2 Recovery of sorted materials: 7. Material recovery from waste
  • E39.0.0 Remediation activities: 8. Landfill gas capture and energetic utilization; 9 Carbon Capture and Storage

For two NACE Codes within the WSWR sector (‘E38.1.2 collection of hazardous waste’ and ‘E38.2.2 treatment and disposal of hazardous waste’), no economic activity with relevant climate mitigation benefits has been identified due to the lack of available information. ‘E38.3.1 dismantling of wrecks’ was reprioritized mainly because the dismantling of wrecks (automobiles, televisions and computers, ships, etc.) involves major risks for the environment but not for the climate.

On waste incineration with energy recovery (waste-to-energy, WtE) experts’ opinions differed on whether this would be an appropriate environmentally sustainable activity offering a substantial contribution to climate mitigation. On the one hand, there were arguments against the inclusion of WtE. These highlighted the large portion of waste currently incinerated that could be recycled, the reliance of some individual Member States on the incineration of municipal waste, and the risk that further increasing capacities risk overcapacity and could result in lock-in effects. This would in turn discourage more reuse and recycling, options higher in the waste hierarchy. On the other hand, it was emphasized that WtE has a role to play even in an increasingly circular economy as not all residual waste can be reused or recycled (as acknowledged by the EC in its Communication COM(2017)34 on ‘the role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy’, Section 5). The Commission interprets the Taxonomy proposal in such a way that WtE is outside its scope for climate change mitigation as it causes harm to the environmental objectives of a circular economy: waste prevention and recycling, as per Article 9(1)(i) and Article 12(d) of the EU draft Taxonomy regulation. Thus, WtE was not included in the Taxonomy for climate change mitigation. However, several experts wished to bring this matter for further discussion and consideration to the Commission.

Setting criteria and thresholds

An important characteristic of subsector WSWR is that for the identified activities – with one exception – the climate mitigation effect is at the heart of the corresponding business model, for example the energetic utilization of bio-gas gained through the anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge and bio-waste, or the material recovery from waste for reuse by other sectors. This constellation focuses the choice of climate mitigation criteria on qualitative metrics, securing the execution of the activities/businesses themselves and rendering obsolete climate mitigation thresholds.

Only in ‘water collection, treatment and supply’ is the core business a different issue, namely water supply, and the climate mitigation effect is the result of a more efficient design of the production process (e.g. by raising pump efficiency or reducing leakages). Consequently, concrete quantitative thresholds were defined only for this activity, with a first option describing an ambitious level of high energy efficiency in the water collection, treatment and supply system, and with a second, more transitional option setting thresholds for the substantial improvement of the system’s energy efficiency.