Key messages: The implementation of best available techniques (BAT) as mandated by the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) has led to less chemical pollution. Work is also under way to further strengthen the BAT approach. The reporting of data under the IED and the European Releases and Transfers Register (E-PRTR)  has also had a positive effect in terms of e.g. sharing information to the public, identifying cleaner production opportunities, and monitoring programmes for cleaner production. 

The EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive (EU, 2010) is legislation that sets out integrated environmental permit requirements for a wide range of large industrial activities. In total, it covers around 52,000 agro-industrial installations such as power or cement plants. Among those, about 9% are related to the chemical industry, e.g. for the production of organic chemicals.  

One of the key elements of the IED is that it requires environmental permit conditions to be based on best available techniques (BAT). These are the most environmentally effective and economically viable proven techniques within each industrial sector covered by the law, and are agreed in a procedure known as the ‘Sevilla process’ led by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Seville, Spain. This is a transparent and thorough information exchange process involving experts from EU Member States, industry, NGOs and the European Commission. For each sector, BAT Reference Documents (known as BREFs) are drafted with the aim of establishing best available techniques for all relevant industrial processes, as well as the associated emissions levels, operating conditions and monitoring requirements for minimising industrial waste and pollution to air, water and land. A chapter of these BREFs (the so-called BAT conclusions) is legally binding within four years of their adoption.   

During the ‘Sevilla process’, the key environmental issues of each sector are identified so as to determine the main issues that need to be addressed in the BREF. Typically, this covers both naturally occurring (e.g. heavy metals) and synthetic pollutants (e.g. nonylphenols). The development of BAT-associated emissions levels (BAT-AELs) and best-in-class abatement techniques such as selective catalytic reduction (SCR) for abating NOx emissions or Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programmes for identifying fugitive emissions also help reduce chemicals pollution linked to industrial activities. In terms of transparency, the public can assess the environmental performance of many sites since the vast majority of those covered by the IED are also covered by the EU’s E-PRTR Regulation. This requires the annual reporting of emissions of 91 pollutants to air, water and land (as long as it is emitted above certain thresholds), as well as waste and pollutant transfers  – that is, the offsite movement of waste for disposal or treatment and the offsite movement of pollutants in wastewater for treatment in an urban wastewater treatment plant, respectively. The data are available to all and published on the European Industrial Emissions Portal alongside details on permit availability, application of BAT, derogations used and, since 2024, production volume.    

Several studies have demonstrated a link between BAT implementation and emissions reductions, as well as a positive effect of reporting industrial releases such as sharing information to the public, identifying cleaner production opportunities, and monitoring programmes for cleaner production. This is also shown in the EEA’s indicator on Large Combustion Plants, which is one of the sectors covered by the IED. However, to maximise the opportunities for pollution reduction based on BAT, maximum BAT-AEL should not be applied as a default. Additionally, national competent authorities should ensure that derogations of BAT conclusions based on Article 15(4) of the IED are used sparsely and only when duly justified, as these derogations allow operators to delay the implementation of BAT or the stringency of the emission limit values (ELV) of a given pollutant in their permits in cases of special geographical or local circumstances or due to the technical characteristics of the installations.   

Proposals for revising the IED and E-PRTR Regulation  — which will become known as the Industrial Emissions Portal Regulation — have measures that are coherent with the objectives of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS). These also aim to streamline the way chemicals are managed in and reported by industrial sites. These proposals have now been adopted by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament.

References and footnotes

  1. EU, 2010, Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (recast) (Text with EEA relevance) (OJ L 334, 17.12.2010, pp. 17-119).
  2. EU, 2006, Regulation (EC) No 166/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 January 2006 concerning the establishment of a European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register and amending Council Directives 91/689/EEC and 96/61/EC (Text with EEA relevance) (OJ L 33, 4.2.2006, pp. 1-17).
  3. Kolominskas, C. and Sullivan, R., 2004, ‘Improving cleaner production through pollutant release and transfer register reporting processes’, Journal of Cleaner Production 12 (7) , pp. 713-724.
  4. Ricardo E&E, 2018, Ex-post assessment of costs and benefits from implementing BAT under the Industrial Emissions Directive, Ricardo Energy and Environment, London, United Kingdom ( accessed 4 October 2023.
  5. OECD, 2019, Uses of PRTR data and tools for their presentation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris, France ( accessed 4 October 2023.
  6. PBL, 2022, Decarbonisation options for the Dutch waste incineration industry, PBL (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), The Hague, The Netherlands ( accessed 4 October 2023.
  7. EC, 2022a, Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) and Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the landfill of waste (COM (2022) 156 final of 5 April 2022).
  8. EC, 2022b, Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on reporting of environmental data from industrial installations and establishing an Industrial Emissions Portal (COM (2022) 157 final of 5 April 2022).
  9. EC, 2020, COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS ‘Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment’ (COM (2020) 667 final of 14 October 2020) ( accessed 26 April 2023.