We describe a simple and standardised screening system (AREB) for surveillance of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment. The system consists of 96 well microplates containing eight sets of breakpoint amounts of 10 different antibiotics. The incubated microplates are read by a desktop scanner and the plate images are analysed by special software that automatically presents the resistance data. The AREB method is combined with a rapid typing method, the PhenePlate system, which yields information on the diversity of the bacteria in the studied samples, and on the possible prevalence of resistant clones. In order to demonstrate the usage of AREB, a comparative study on the resistance situation among 970 Escherichia coli isolates from sewage and recipient water in Sweden, Norway and Chile, was performed. Resistance rates to all antibiotics were markedly higher in hospital sewage than in other samples. Our data indicate that the AREB system is useful for comparing resistance rates among E. coli and other environmental indicator bacteria in different countries/regions. Simple handling and automatic data evaluation, combined with low cost, facilitate large studies involving several thousands of isolates.