Belgium’s three governments agree that a deposit scheme is essential to spur on the fight against litter. Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir wants to give an innovative smart digital deposit scheme every chance of success. Such a scheme has been proposed by the companies that put drinks on the market, the federations that represent them and Fost Plus. At the same time, a study is underway in Wallonia that is looking into various deposit schemes, including the digital option. With the launch of the ‘Together for a Smart Deposit System’ initiative, the sector, together with the Fevia and Comeos federations, and Fost Plus are taking the next steps to test such a system in practice and, if it proves viable, to implement it in 2025. A series of tests and pilot projects are therefore getting underway.
The first two pilot projects run from the end of May until the end of June. In the closed environment of the premises of the Corda Campus in Hasselt and of KBC in Leuven, a number of key elements for the proper functioning of the smart deposit scheme are being tested. These include the unique codes on the drinks packaging, the operation and user-friendliness of an app, the correct scanning of the unique code, the refund of the deposit paid, and the robustness of the proposed systems for fraud prevention and data protection. Subsequently, pilot projects will be conducted in semi-open and open environments for testing additional aspects, including the impact on litter and the ease of use for specific target groups.
For more information about the pilot projects.
Involving local authorities
Meanwhile, talks have also started with the local authorities. Four webinars were organised to inform towns and cities, communes and intermunicipal organisations of the entire development path and their specific role in the project. In this context, they were asked about waste collection in public places. This provided an opportunity for them to share their experiences and vision. Later this month, the results of this survey will be further processed in working sessions with the local authorities.
Starting point: keeping the public comfortable
Companies that put packaged products on the market in Belgium have been committed to the fight against litter for years and want to raise the bar even higher. So Comeos, Fevia and Fost Plus drew up a proposal for a smart, digital deposit scheme that builds further on the unique, effective recycling system here in Belgium. First of all, the smart deposit scheme was examined in a feasibility study carried out by the consultancy firm PwC, before being laid down in a roadmap with clear interim goals. All the technical, technological, legal and communication issues were gathered together and worked out in this roadmap. This includes the unique codes or the platforms on which the system has to run. The feasibility study showed that a digital deposit scheme like this is the best way to actually tackle litter and maintain the comfort of the blue bag for the public. This innovative system means that the vast majority of consumers, who have been putting their cans and bottles neatly in the blue bag for 25 years, do not have to change their habits, so Belgium can maintain its high collection and recycling rates.
At the start of February, OVAM launched a specific call for Flemish pilot projects at the request of Minister Demir. In order to monitor these pilot projects, a steering group and an advisory panel were set up in Flanders. From among the fourteen parties that responded to this call for projects, three companies were selected. The steering group eventually chose two concrete pilot projects. A test protocol has now been drawn up for the next phase, in a semi-open environment.
A study is underway in Wallonia with the cooperation of Fost Plus. This study, led by the RDC research firm, is looking into the various deposit options in Belgium. The first results are expected in July. The Walloon study will make maximum use of the results from the Flemish pilot projects. The Walloon Region is included in the advisory panel for the Flemish pilot procedure and OVAM is a member of the steering group for the Walloon deposit scheme study.
In the course of the year, tests will also be carried out in Wallonia. The aim is to focus on the points and concerns requiring attention in the Walloon Region, so as to guarantee complementarity with the Flemish pilot projects. Particular attention will, for instance, be devoted to the so-called ‘white zones’, where there is no general access to broadband.
The Brussels Region completed a study at the end of 2022, carried out by Leefmilieu Brussel/Bruxelles Environnement, at the initiative of the minister for the Environment and Public Cleanliness on the impact of the introduction of a deposit scheme in the Brussels Capital Region. The high population density, spatial differences from one district to the next, the language barrier and the high volume of newcomers are addressed as points of particular concern in a new cleanliness strategy that has identified deposits as a possible measure. The Brussels-Capital Region is working with the other Regions to continue exchanging knowledge. To this end, the Brussels Region is taking part in the steering group of the study in Wallonia and the advisory panel in Flanders.
Less litter and more recycling
As part of an integrated approach to litter, a smart deposit scheme can keep Belgium among the leaders in Europe as regards the collection and recycling of drinks packaging. The PwC study indicates that it is the most effective way of recovering the packaging that still ends up as litter or in the residual waste for recycling, and the way that is easiest for consumers. After all, every home, every blue bag and every public (blue) rubbish bin is a collection point for deposit bottles and cans.
The smart deposit scheme is a flexible, modern solution linked to contemporary consumption trends out of home, which means that we are setting the trend in the fight against litter, as well.
More information and context can be found on our project page - Every Packaging Counts.