No plastics tax in the EU. Photo: Messe Düsseldorf, Constanze Tillmann
No to plastics tax in the EU
Due to Brexit, the European financial budget will apparently be around 12 to 13 billion euros short each year. EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger now has to come up with ideas of how to grab some more money for his coffers. One of them was the introduction of a plastics tax. But the EU Commission recently decided otherwise, and so no tax will be raised on plastic packaging waste. To be precise, there will be no such tax to improve the budgets for 2021 to 2027 – neither at the manufacturing level nor through a “plastic bag tax” for the consumer. Instead, the EU is applying incentives and passing the responsibility back to its member states.
Each tonne of non-recycled plastic packaging is to incur an EUR 800 penalty. This is to increase the incentive to step up recycling and to stop dumping plastic waste in landfills. Unfortunately, there is still no European wide landfill ban on waste which causes a large amount of heat when burnt. Suitable regulations are in place at the national level, e.g. in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other core member states of the EU.
More recycling in the EU
The importance of recycling was acknowledged by the EU as early as January 2018, when it presented its Plastics Strategy. Under this strategy all EU member states should aim to reduce plastics in the environment by 2030. One of the most important tools for this purpose is the strengthening of recycling schemes in the EU. Also, there is to be a ban on exporting plastic waste, and China has recently declared that it would no longer accept such waste. Furthermore, the consumer is to be given better information through more transparent markings and clearer standards.
The introduction of a plastics tax had previously been opposed by numerous politicians and representatives of industry. The Vice President of the EU Commission, Frans Timmermans, said such a tax would not be “sustainable”. But he also emphasised that it is important to forge ahead with the production and use of recyclable plastics and do away with micro plastics. He was recently quoted by the Guardian (UK) as saying that a tax would not be helpful towards this end.
Maria Krautzberger, President of the German Federal Environment Agency, warned that a plastics tax would cause consumers to opt for materials with worse eco-balances than plastics. After all, this is true of any material: when we look at its environmental performance, we need to consider the full range of parameters, including its production, shipment, use and disposal. It therefore follows, for instance, that the eco-balance of a paper bag might be worse than the eco-balance of a plastic bag due to the large amounts of energy and water required at the production stage.
Clearer packaging labels are to provide better information for the consumer, thus supporting sustainable reuse. Photo: Messe Düsseldorf, Constanze Tillmann
Too good to throw away
Industry representatives also pointed out in the discussion that, when it comes to renewable energies, plastics allow the sustainable use of raw materials. They can be used for insulation in buildings, as light constructional components in mobility applications, to protect sensitive and perishable goods and also as raw materials in renewable energies. Ongoing innovations in the packaging industry are leading to improvements in materials, plants and processes and can therefore ensure a better overall eco-balance just as much as improvements in functionality and more protection for packaged goods. Representatives of companies and associations have long been raising awareness that used packaging is too good to throw away. Once it is no longer required as packaging, it can still be used for the production of high-quality secondary raw materials. However, this is only possible if a waste management system works well and if the consumer is given sufficient information.