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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C

New EU rules aim to cut down on amount of bottled water people drink

On average, every person in the EU consumes up to 106 litres of bottled water every year.

shutterstock_124017763 Shutterstock / ventdusud File photo of a man drinking water from a plastic bottle. Shutterstock / ventdusud / ventdusud

MEMBERS OF THE European Parliament have voted to adopt new rules which aim to improve the quality of and access to drinking water as well as reduce plastic waste from water bottles.

Most people in the European Union have good access to high quality drinking water. More than 98.5% of tests carried out on drinking water samples between 2011 and 2013 met EU standards, according to a 2016 report by the European Environment Agency.

On average, every person in the EU consumes up to 106 litres of bottled water every year.

Research by the European Commission has found that reducing the consumption of bottled water could help households in Europe save more than €600 million per year, and have a positive impact on the environment by reducing CO2 emissions and plastic waste.

20181015PHT16034_original European Commission European Commission

This week, MEPs voted in favour of updating rules to increase consumer confidence and encourage the drinking of tap water. They have called on EU countries to “promote universal access” to clean water for everyone. 

MEPs also voted overwhelmingly in favour of an EU-wide ban on single-use plastics such as straws, cutlery and cotton buds. Some 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste from the EU end up in the sea every year. The legislation still needs to be approved in negotiations involving member states and the Commission.

The EU Drinking Water Directive sets minimum quality standards for water intended for human consumption (drinking, cooking, other domestic purposes), in order to protect people from contamination.

The new rules include:

  • Tightening the maximum limits for certain pollutants such as lead (to be reduced by half), harmful bacteria, as well as introducing new caps for certain endocrine disruptors
  • Member states to take measures to provide universal access to clean water in the EU and improve water access in cities and public places, by setting up free fountains where technically feasible and proportionate; they should also encourage tap water to be provided in restaurants, canteens and catering services for free or for a low service fee
  • Member states should identify people without access, or with limited access to water, including vulnerable and marginalised groups, and assess ways to improve their access

The rules also have to be negotiated with the Commission before they come into effect. 

Dublin MEP Brian Hayes said the European Parliament has recognised that “consumers’ trust in drinking water from the tap needs to be restored”. 

Hayes noted that Ireland has “had our challenges … with cryptosporidium outbreaks in our water and this has naturally impacted on people’s ability to drink from the tap”.

“These updated rules should impact positively on our drinking water standards in this country – providing monetary savings for consumers as well as assisting us to play our part in tackling plastic waste.”

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