The European Single Use Plastics directive (SUP) requires companies that put packaged products on the European market to bear the cost of the litter resulting from their packaging. For the transposition to Belgian legislation, the three regions are currently reading the draft of the Interregional Cooperation Agreement (ICA) and gathering opinions on this text. While awaiting clear decisions on the operational framework and the exact amounts to be charged on to the business sector, Fost Plus has started pilot projects with towns, cities and communes. The objective is to test the proposed centralised approach on the ground.
The European context
The SUP states that as from 2023, manufacturers of certain plastic packaging will be responsible for the litter costs linked to their products when they end up as litter. In practical terms, this means that the costs of cleaning up, processing and raising awareness of litter are to be charged to the companies in question.
In this respect, Belgium is even more ambitious and wants to extend this rule to all packaging, on the one hand, and to all products found as litter, on the other.
Although the SUP directive was supposed to have been transposed into Belgian law by 3 July 2021, today we still do not know what we are up against.
A coordinated approach
At the end of 2021, Fost Plus had already stated that its aim was to set up a cooperation model with towns, cities and municipalities to increase the efficiency of the local litter policy. This approach would also allow the levers of the existing system to be used to include packaging that ends up in litter and in public bins into the recycling chain.
The current version of the ICA still leaves the possibility for local authorities to opt either for a traditional charging system or a coordinated approach through a collective organisation.
However, we are convinced that a mere levy will not have a sufficient impact on litter, either in terms of public cleanliness or an effective approach. After all, there is no incentive for local efforts. This actually comes down to a blank cheque from industry without any say in how resources are deployed to actually reduce litter.
So together with the sector federations Comeos and Fevia, we have raised our objections with the relevant government agencies. This has, however, not stopped us from already starting pilot projects in Flanders and Wallonia. These should allow us to gain knowledge in the field, so as to eventually present tangible results of a coordinated approach towards our common goal: reducing litter.
First pilot projects on the way
In Flanders, the commune of Erpe-Mere is one of the first to have joined the litter management pilot project. The commune has been actively fighting against this issue for years. The goal is to move the existing initiatives up a gear. The focus will initially be on gaining a better structural insight into litter in the streets and the contents of the public litter bins.
The first actions are taking shape in Wallonia as well. Close cooperation with the TIBI intermunicipal agency for the city of Charleroi is one example of this.
Other pilot projects are on the home straight. The aim is to achieve a good mix of urban and rural environments. After all, there is a clear difference between the two in terms of the issue and the approach.
Need for a transparent, realistic calculation
It is obvious that packaging companies continue to assume their responsibility in the fight against litter. But we need to provide the right justification for the bill. The amount put forward today, however, in the current version of the ICA (€189 million) is disproportionate and not transparent enough.
The SUP also states that costs to be charged to products should reflect services provided in a cost-effective manner. However, the ICA mentions the actual costs, which also include enforcement. We see the fact that the clean-up costs claimed per inhabitant in our neighbouring countries are significantly lower than the amounts going around here as an additional indication that the proposed charge on Belgian industry is disproportionate. So together with the sector federations Fevia and Comeos, we have challenged this amount.
Finally, when the first payment is due still has to be determined. Neighbouring countries have opted for a payment in the calendar year after the reference year.
The three regions have started the reading of the ISA at government level. This process should culminate in an adoption by the regional parliaments within a few months. Initial approval in principle has been granted in Flanders and Brussels. Various local advisory bodies are involved. In Flanders, for instance, the Social and Economic Council and the Environment and Nature Council have published their opinions. Brupartners did likewise for the Brussels-Capital Region. In Wallonia, the Pôle Environnement is working on its opinion and the first reading will exceptionally be completed after publication of this opinion.
We are convinced that things can and must be done better. That a coordinated approach will allow tangible results to be achieved in the field so that litter, and therefore the cost of litter to businesses, can be reduced.