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Sustainable production: best available techniques

Industrial production processes account for a considerable share of the overall pollution in Europe. The EU has a set of common rules for permitting and controlling industrial installations described in the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU (IED).

Chapter II of IED (and its predecessor Directives) requires the integrated control of the consumption of energy, water and raw materials, as well as the prevention of the pollution of water, air and soil from approximately 50 000 industrial installations across Europe. This control is implemented in each EU member state through a system of permits that include conditions requiring the use of the Best Available Techniques (BAT).

The European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau (EIPPCB) provides a major resource for EU member states and applicants for permits by developing Best Available Techniques Reference Documents (BREFs). BREFs are generated following the exchange of technical information between experts from industry, EU countries, research institutes, environmental NGOs and the European Commission. The EIPPCB plays an important role in mediating this process by setting up a technical working group for each BREF.

BREFs are the main reference documents used by competent authorities in EU countries when issuing operating permits for industrial installations that represent a significant pollution potential. They inform relevant decision makers about what may be technically and economically available to industry in order to improve their environmental performance and consequently improve the whole environment.

Producing a BREF is a two to three year process, involving up to 100 experts, with the key support of the EIPPCB mediating the process. So far 33 BREFs for industry sectors have been produced.

A BREF is the vehicle through which BAT and emerging techniques are determined in a transparent manner, based on sound techno-economic information. It gives predictability to the process of determining conclusions on BAT and provides confidence in the quality of the end result.

The key elements of BREFs, BAT conclusions, are adopted through committee procedure and are the reference for setting permit conditions to installations covered by the IED. A BREF is not meant to be a textbook on pollution prevention and control techniques since extensive literature exists on the subject. Therefore, its content is limited to the information relevant for this purpose of enabling the determination of BAT and emerging techniques under the IED.

There is a rolling programme to revise BREFs periodically in order to account for developments in manufacturing techniques and in pollution control. BREFs revised from January 2011 onwards will include parts identified as 'BAT conclusions'. These may contain emission and consumption levels associated with the use of BAT. A formal procedure for the adoption of these BAT conclusions is provided by Article 75(2) of the IED.

The elaboration of BREFs at EU level is considered to be an efficient exercise because in their absence, each EU member state would have to conduct a similar exercise. In the international context, BREFs and BAT conclusions are considered an EU contribution to the global process initiated at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, so that non-European countries can also benefit from this ambitious work.

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