All cities, towns, and large villages were scheduled to have treatment plants operational before the end of 2005, offering primary or secondary treatment as standard, and better, where appropriate. Before the treatment process even begins, waste needs to be filtered and cleared of rubbish, fats, and other foreign objects.
Umhverfisstofnun (the environment agency) states in a new assessment report for 2020, that Iceland has made little progress in sewage treatment matters since 2014, when the proportion of sewage left untreated in the country was among the highest seen in the OECD.
In 2020, waste from at least 49,000 urban residents flowed into the sea without treatment, including from the entire towns of Keflavík, Ísafjörður, Sauðárkrókur, Húsavík, Vestmannaeyjar, Selfoss, and Grindavík, among others. Furthermore, sewage received only basic treatment in the capital region, Akureyri, Akranes, Borgarnes, and Njarðvík. Nowhere in Iceland had fully-functioning two-stage treatment facilities as of 2020.
Most communities release sewage into the sea; though a few release it into rivers or their estuaries.
Iceland’s newest national water framework describes sewage as the source of pollution that puts the most pressure on water and the aquatic environment in Iceland.