Eco-taxes on products and packaging on the way in Belgium

Belgium is poised to become the latest European country to introduce extensive environmental taxes. The Belgian Parliament has just approved the imposition of eco-taxes on a wide range of packaging and products containing hazardous substances. The initiative has run into industry objections, but is likely to become law this summer.

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:

  • Throw-away beverage packaging: The aim here is to reduce pollution and waste production by stimulating reuse, and by recycling the remaining packaging. Eco-taxes will be applied initially to soft drink, sparkling water and beer containers, and to other beverage packaging by 1997. The tax rate is set at 15BFr per litre, with a minimum of 7BFr. One Belgian franc is roughly equivalent to two pence.

    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.

  • Paper: With paper the goal is to enhance the market for used paper. An eco-tax of 10BFr/kg will be applied. There are again exemptions. Newspapers will be exempt if they have a recycled content of 20% by 1995, and other journals and magazines if their recycled content is 60% or more by 1994. The tax rate for paper made from 100% virgin fibre but which is not chlorine-bleached will be halved.

  • Throw-away products: Eco-taxes will initially be levied only on throw-away razors (at 10BFr) and throw-away cameras (300BFr). A reduction of up to 100BFr per camera will apply if 80% of the material is to be recycled. The taxes are intended to make producers and consumers aware that raw materials should be handled economically, and will be extended to other products, possibly including plastic carrier bags, disposable lighters and disposable tableware.

  • Batteries: The law aims to discourage the disposal of all types of batteries into the environment and goes well beyond the requirements of the EC battery Directive (ENDS Report 220, pp 31-32 ). An eco-tax of 20BFr per battery will apply unless a deposit/refund system, at a minimum of 10BFr per battery, is in place. Manufacturers or importers will have to prove that they have adequate facilities to treat batteries returned to them or that they have a contract to do so with an approved recycler.

  • Industrial packaging: The eco-tax applies to all packaging of hazardous or toxic substances, including ink, lime, oil, solvents and pesticides, and is set at 25BFr per litre, with a maximum of 500BFr per pack. An exemption applies for packaging with an acceptably high deposit.

  • Pesticides: The aim is to reduce the use of certain pesticides and replace them with less hazardous compounds. An eco-tax of 10BFr per gramme of active ingredient of highly toxic or toxic material, and 5BFr/gram for active ingredients classified as noxious, corrosive or irritating, will apply. At some time in the future, an eco-tax of 2BFr/gram of active ingredient will be levied on a third category of pesticides proved to affect human beings and the environment. However, pesticides employed professionally, disinfectants and some timber treatment products are exempted.

    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.

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