The PRTR protocol

Article 5.9 of the Convention stipulates that each Party will gradually set up a pollutant release inventory system accessible to the public. In application of this article, the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) Protocol was signed in May 2003 in Kiev during the fifth “Environment for Europe” Conference by 36 Member States of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) plus the European Commission. This protocol is also open to non-signatory States and non-Parties to the Aarhus Convention as well as States that are not part of the UNECE. On 8 October 2009, the PRTR Protocol entered into force. In January 2015, it consisted of 33 Parties, among which Belgium and the European Union.

Within the Protocol there is also a Meeting of the Parties. This body evaluates the state of progress of the implementation of the Protocol and takes decisions in order to reach the goals of the Protocol.

- The First Meeting of the Parties took place in 2010 in Geneva (Switzerland).
- The Second Meeting of the Parties took place in 2014 in Maastricht (the Netherlands).

The Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR)

Encouraging transparency for pollution generated by companies: this is the goal of the inventory concerning the release and transfer of pollutants, or PRTR (pollutant release and transfer register). This information tool concerns no less than 86 air, water and soil pollutants, and information on the transmission of waste (water). Everyone in Belgium can freely consult the data via the websites of the three Regions (see direct links at the end of this page).

Who has to contribute to the PRTR?

The owners or operators of facilities, where at least one activity listed in Annex I of the Protocol is carried out, must inform public authorities of their releases and transfers of 86 pollutants so that they can be incorporated into the PRTR register, in cases where the level of these pollutants exceeds the thresholds specified in Annex II of the Protocol. They also have to report on their waste production.
Examples of those concerned are: thermal power stations, mining operations and metallurgy industries, chemical plants, waste-water management, and pulp and wood industries.

Which pollutants?

According to the meaning of the Protocol, the term “pollutant” means a substance or group of substances that may be harmful to the environment or to human health on account of its properties, notably when introduced into the environment.

The list of 86 pollutants includes benzene, methane and mercury, as well as groups of substances such as volatile organic compounds, greenhouse gases or heavy metals. The entire list is detailed in Annex II of the Protocol.

“Waste” means substances or objects which are:
(a) disposed of or recovered;
(b) intended to be disposed of or recovered; or
(c) required by the provisions of national law to be disposed of or recovered.

A useful register with free access for everyone

Accessibility to the PRTR has been considered in the broadest sense. Everyone must be able to consult it easily and free of charge using electronic means. This is why the choice was made to publish it on the Internet. Furthermore, the organisation of the data must be as transparent as possible.

Numerous players benefit from the PRTR inventory set-up and its transparency:

  • the public and organisations active in environmental matters. They are able to access information relating to the environment on a local and global level;
  • public authorities who are able to follow certain trends in terms of the release of various pollutants and the transfer of waste as well as the progress achieved within the framework of environmental policies;
  • companies themselves, who thereby have a useful source of information allowing them to improve their environmental performance.

Transparent and controlled information

The data sent to the PRTR, which is updated every year, must respect a structure that is identical for all contributors. The parameters taken into account are the type of activity, pollutant and waste, the geographic location, the environment, etc. This coherence ensures transparency of the data. Moreover, the data is subjected to a quality control by the relevant authority.

Application in Belgium

Belgium has played an active role in developing the PRTR Protocol since the beginning of negotiations in 2001. After its formal adoption and the Protocol signing at the “Environment for Europe” Ministerial Conference in Kiev, May 2003, Belgium continued its leading role both within the European Union and within the UN work group responsible for discussions on the Protocol.

The provisions in the PRTR Protocol were adapted to a European regulation (166/2006 of 18 January 2006) which came into force on 24 February 2006. Belgium immediately began the Protocol’s ratification process and completed this on 12 March 2009.On 8 October 2009, the PRTR Protocol entered into force at international level.

The Regions are responsible for the implementation of the dispositions of the Protocol. The federal state is only competent for the dispositions regarding access to justice.

Belgium chose to make the data available via the following channels:

For more information