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 working on a specific Interregional Cooperation Agreement (ICA). While awaiting clear decisions on the operational framework, 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.
Although the SUP directive was supposed to have been transposed into Belgian law by 3 July 2021, there is no final operating framework today.
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, municipalities and intercommunal 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. More information on these pilot projects can be found in this article.
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. While the cost per inhabitant in our neighbouring countries is around EUR 3 per person, the current version of the ISA charges almost EUR 10 per inhabitant for Belgium. The amount included in ICA today stands at 114 million euros and includes beverage cans and cigarette boxes in addition to plastic packaging as targeted in the SUP. Our litter problem does not differ as such from those in our neighbouring countries to justify such a difference. Together with the sector federations Fevia and Comeos, we therefore call for a re-evaluation.
The ISA litter has currently been submitted to the State Council. The State Council is expected to deliver its opinion around 21 November.
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.