According to the European Single Use Plastics directive, companies bringing packaged products onto the European market will have to bear the litter cost of their packaging from 1 January 2023. For the transposition to Belgian legislation, the three regions started with a first reading of the draft of the Interregional Cooperation Agreement (ISA). For Fost Plus, however, this draft is not yet up to mark.
The Single Use Plastics directive (SUP) states that from 2023 manufacturers of certain plastic packaging will be responsible for the litter costs linked to their products, when they are found as litter. This means that the costs of cleaning up, processing and raising awareness of litter will 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.
Local test projects
Although the SUP directive was supposed to be transposed into Belgian law by 3 July 2021, today we still do not know what we are up against. The current version of the text still leaves the possibility for local governments to opt either for a traditional charging system or a coordinated approach through a collective organisation.
In this respect, we expressed our ambition at the end of 2021 to set up a cooperation model between cities and municipalities and Fost Plus to make the local litter policy more successful. 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.
Indeed, we are convinced that a mere levy will not have a big enough impact on litter, either in terms of public cleanliness or efficiency in approach. After all, there is no incentive for local efforts. This actually comes down to a blank cheque by the industry without any say in how resources are deployed to actually reduce litter.
On the one hand, together with sector federations Comeos and Fevia, we have raised our objections with the relevant government agencies. However, it has not stopped us, on the other hand, already to start pilot projects in Flanders and Wallonia. These should allow us to gain knowledge in the field, to eventually present tangible results of a coordinated approach towards our common goal: reducing litter.
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 ISA (€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 ISA mentions actual costs, which also include enforcement. Finally, the fact that the claimed clean-up costs per inhabitant in our neighbouring countries are significantly lower than the amounts going around here, is an additional indication for us that what they are trying to charge to the Belgian industry is disproportionate.
In addition, it should also be determined when the first payment is due. Neighbouring countries have opted for a payment in the calendar year after the reference year.
We are therefore 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.
The three regions have started the first reading on the draft ISA at government level. This process should culminate in an adoption by the regional parliaments within a few months. Various advisory bodies at the local level will now have the chance to present their recommendation. In Flanders, for instance, the Social and Economic Council and the Environment and Nature Council will be consulted.
In Wallonia, Le Pôle Environnement and Brupartners for the Brussels Capital Region will be consulted.
We ourselves continue to work on a fair allocation of the litter bill, but denounce the lack of clarity that exists about the eventual breakdown of costs amount and the timing of it all. We will keep our finger on the pulse.