The disruption in the packaging recycling chain has never been bigger


The end of the year is typically a time for organisations to look back upon the achievements of the past months. For Fost Plus December 2023 does not only mark the end of our 29th year of operations but also the end of our current five-year accreditation period. I think it is safe to say that the past five years have been decisive for the recycling chain of household packaging. Never since the introduction of the blue bag in 1994 has there been a more impactful change than in these last years. So where does this leave us today? A tribune by Wim Geens, managing director of Fost Plus.

“I look back with satisfaction on the past accreditation period. Between 2019 and 2023, more packaging waste was selectively collected per inhabitant, the recycling rate for plastic packaging material increased incrementally and Fost Plus further optimised the cooperation with members and partners for better packaging management throughout the chain. We are on track to achieve the objectives formulated in the current accreditation. These results form the foundation for the ambitions that we formulated in the new accreditation application, which is currently under review for the period 2024 to 2029.”

More sorting and recycling, and better recyclable packaging

Since 2019, more packaging has been allowed in the blue bag. The New Blue Bag was born. Five years later, an additional 8 kg is collected per inhabitant every year, or about 90,000 tons of (mainly) plastic packaging material that was previously incinerated as residual waste. As a result, the plastic recycling rate increased to 61% in 2022. To sort these extra (plastic) materials, 5 new high-tech sorting centers were built. Contracts have also been awarded to bring the recycling of these materials to Belgium. This amounts to a total investment of 1 billion euros in the local circular economy between 2019 and 2024, when the new factories will all be operational.

Where the blue bag is our go-to for sorting at home, citizens are consuming more and more out of home and on the go. In its approach, Fost Plus has focused on waste management at work on the one hand and at specific target locations on the other. With success: the objective was to double the share of PMD collected out of home. At the end of 2022, the counter stood at 24,000 tons.

“Packaging is only sustainable if it is designed that way. The industry has committed to eliminating all non-recyclable packaging by 2025. Between 2019 and 2022, around 2,500 tons of non-recyclable packaging disappeared from store shelves. We continue to work with the industry, knowledge centers and our operational partners to find technological solutions to integrate certain packaging types in our current scenarios or to adapt the design of disruptive packaging. But this should always be done taking into account their inherent function. We strive to a holistic view of the packaging and its product.”

Shift from packaging to materials

In future, companies will play an even more important role in making the value chain more sustainable. The impact of packaging on the environment must be reduced. Companies must further optimise their packaging systems, by ensuring every (single-use) packaging they put on the market is recyclable from its conception, that those packaging gets returned to be part of a sustainable recycling chain and by focusing where relevant on reusable packaging or business models without packaging.

“These ambitions are reflected in the current legislative framework. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation strives to further harmonise packaging waste management throughout Europe. The focus clearly shifts from packaging to materials. And rightly so. If we want to protect our natural resources for future generations, we must look beyond recycling alone. I see an opportunity in this switch. Producer Responsibility Organisations such as Fost Plus have a role to play in the shift towards reuse and prevention. It is a broad social and societal role, beyond the operational role that we play today.

Over the next five years, we want to build upon the success of the blue bag. But collecting and recycling are not enough. First, we aim to further close the circularity gap by stimulating the use of recycled content in packaging. Second, that also means that every (single-use) packaging counts, including those that still end up today in litter or emanating from out of home consumption. And lastly, we want to support companies in their transition towards more reusable packaging and prevention.”

The next five years promise to be equally challenging. We set course together towards a sustainable future and clean world for all. And as we are celebrating our 30th anniversary next year, keep an eye out for more news.