Denmark's most basic environmental legislation is the Environmental Protection Act of 1974, which entrusts the Ministry of the Environment, in conjunction with local authorities, with antipollution responsibilities. The basic principle is that the polluter must pay the cost of adapting facilities to environmental requirements; installations built before 1974, however, are eligible for government subsidies to cover the cost of meeting environmental standards. Land and water pollution are two of Denmark's most significant environmental problems although much of Denmark's household and industrial waste is recycled. In the mid-1990s, Denmark averaged 447.3 thousand tons of solid waste per year. Animal wastes are responsible for polluting both drinking and surface water. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution threaten the quality of North Sea waters. A special treatment plant at Nyborg, on the island of Fyn, handles dangerous chemical and oil wastes. The nation has 6 cu km of renewable water resources with 16% used for farming and 9% for industrial purposes.
Remaining environmental problems include air pollution, especially from automobile emissions; excessive noise, notably in the major cities; and the pollution of rivers, lakes, and open sea by raw sewage. In the early 1990s Denmark ranked among 50 nations with the heaviest industrial carbon dioxide emissions. In 1996, emissions totaled 56.5 million metric tons per year. As of 2001, Denmark had 220 protected sites, with an area of 1.3 million ha, or about 32% of the total land area. As of 2001, the list of threatened species included three species of mammals and two breeding bird species. Endangered species include the coalfish whale, blue whale, loggerhead, leatherback turtle, and Atlantic sturgeon.