Belgium's eco-taxes emerged following a political link-up last July between the two green parties, Agalev and Ecolo, and the Government. In return for their backing for institutional reform measures, the Government promised to allow fiscal instruments to be used in environmental policy for products.
The eco-tax proposals gained a two-thirds majority in the Belgian Parliament in early June and have now moved to the Senate. Implementation is due from the beginning of 1994.
The eco-taxes are set at levels are expected to bring about desired changes in behaviour. Agalev describes them as "instruments of deterrence" linked to environmental standards stipulated in law. A producer failing to meet these standards will have to pay higher eco-taxes and, as a result, "his products will no longer be competitive and his marketplace will shrink," the party says. Mandatory labels identifying products to which eco-taxes have been applied will create further market pressures against them.
For each product group there is a stated environmental goal. This, and the standards the products have to meet, are as follows:
Producers will not have to pay the tax if they raise the percentage of reusable soft drinks bottles from 40% to 60% by 1997, and from 93% to 95% for beer. The remaining packs must be recycled at a rate of 70% for plastics and 80% for glass and metal. Producers will be exempted if they set up a deposit/refund system for their packaging.
The Belgian Government is aiming to discourage the use of PVC packaging by allowing it no exemptions. The charge will be introduced in July 1994. However, this may change in the light of a study on the effects of the eco-tax on employment and the environment.
Industry will also be expected to finance the collection and recycling of packaging waste, including beverage containers, within five years. A company called Fost Plus has been set up, based on the French Eco-Emballages (ENDS Report 220, p 25 ) and the German Duales System Deutschland models (ENDS Report 206, pp 23-24 ). It will help to finance and organise collection and recycling of packaging waste via the existing waste management system. However, it has run into difficulties in agreeing a system which encompasses materials subject to the eco-tax and those that are not.
Both the European chemical industry's federation, CEFIC, and the Association of Plastic Manufacturers in Europe have complained about the initiative, claiming that it will create new distortions in the market just when the proposed EC Directive on packaging is intended to harmonise it. However, Agalev maintains that the Belgian laws will not breach EC legislation and will not even be notified to the European Commission for scrutiny against the Single Market rules.