Sustainable packaging management is a social role


When recycling alone is not enough

‘Packaging is becoming lighter and more efficient and we’re recycling it better and better. But if we want to really play our role in society and reduce pressure on the environment, we need to look beyond recycling alone. Producer Responsibility Organisations or PROs like Fost Plus can play a key role in that transition.’ These are the words of Fost Plus managing director Wim Geens.

The amount of single-use packaging marketed by Fost Plus members in 2022 is at the same level as 2011. Given population growth of around 7% over the same period, this amounts to a significant decrease in the amount of packaging per capita. ‘We’re seeing a trend. This is due in part to the economic climate and our consumption habits, but it’s also the result of growing awareness. The challenge now will be to consolidate that trend.’

Less waste, more recycling

Fost Plus offers a collective solution for the fulfilment of companies’ take-back obligation for their household packaging. Although waste management is a regional competence, Fost Plus ensures a uniform and efficient system nationwide. ‘The development of this recycling chain for household packaging, and more specifically the introduction of the New Blue Bag, lies behind the decrease in household waste, as more packaging that previously had to end up in residual waste can now be sorted as PMD for recycling.’

The results are impressive: in 2022, for instance, 95% of the packaging marketed by Fost Plus members was recycled into secondary raw materials. These figures place Belgium among the leading European countries. Belgium is one of eight countries that will meet the European recycling targets, including the targets per material type. ‘By awarding recycling contracts for the various material streams, we ensure that these secondary raw materials can flow back to the local manufacturing industry. This creates local jobs and enables Belgian companies to use more recycled material.’ 

Collection and sorting – including outside the home – naturally has its limitations when packaging is not recyclable by design. Fost Plus is working together with companies with this in mind. This goes beyond adapting multi-layer packaging or avoiding carbon black. ‘Making packaging lighter or omitting unnecessary parts is also ecodesign. However, it should never be done at the expense of the function a packaging item is supposed to perform. After all, food wastage due to poorly adapted packaging has an even bigger environmental footprint.’

And this brings us to the heart of the matter. ‘Companies first and foremost market products. The packaging of those products comes with both an ecological and a financial price tag. So they have every interest in choosing the optimal packaging system, in every respect.’

Social role

Both the European and the local legislative frameworks are rightly placing increasing emphasis on reuse and prevention. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation is pushing ambitious targets, including for take-away and drinks packaging. ‘If we want to protect our natural resources, commit to a cleaner environment and create a sustainable future, we need to look beyond recycling alone. Companies are aware of this and are assuming responsibility for it. I see a role for PROs here. Innovative packaging models based on reuse or bulk need robust logistics management systems. We’ve expressed a clear ambition to take on a more important role in this shift towards sustainable packaging management. PROs are gaining an ever greater social role as a result; a role that we are keen - and, thanks to our solid foundations, able - to take on.’