Since 1 January 2021, all European Union member states have had to adhere to a new own resource consisting of tax contributions by all member states on the use of non-recycled plastic packaging. The contribution is calculated by applying a rate of € 0.80 per kilogram to all plastic packaging waste, other than recycled waste, as provided by the European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste.

The European Union is expected to collect around 7,000 million euros a year thanks to this resource. Spain’s total contribution works out at somewhere between 400 and 650 million euros, less around 142 million euros because its gross national income is below the European average.

However, the new regulation does not specify how to implement the measure or how member states should levy the money, meaning that member states will more than likely create duties to finance at least some of the tax.

Spain, for example, has set up an initiative called the Waste and Contaminated Land Bill, which is currently still under review by parliament. It provides for an indirect tax of € 0.45 per kilogram on any plastic packaging that cannot be repurposed when manufactured, imported or purchased from other European Community countries. Italy has come up with something similar: a € 0.45 per kilogram tax on plastic packaging that can neither be repurposed or composted. The scheduled kick-off date was early 2020, but the Covid pandemic delayed it until mid-2021. Neither Spain nor Italy have established a minimum amount to avoid having to pay the tax, unlike in the United Kingdom where the regulations include an indirect tax of £ 0.20 per kilogram that is applicable only to packaging made from less than 30% recycled material.

Evidently, the European regulation seeks to encourage member states to recycle plastic packaging while, internally, country-level measures are focusing more on increasing the amount of recycled plastic in packaging. The overall aim, however, is to indirectly encourage selective collection as a key way of making recycling easier.

In short, the rules and regulations implemented by European Union as a whole and by individual member states are a significant step forward in terms of sustainability. However, in order for them to be effective, all the parties involved need to ensure that the means for achieving the ultimate goal are in place. It makes no sense for companies to develop increasingly sustainable solutions and for people to recycle their waste if it isn’t adequately sorted and treated.