New tax on non-recycled plastic packaging waste will fail to address the plastic pollution crisis

The European Commission’s plan to tax non-recycled plastic packaging waste will fail to address the plastic pollution crisis.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 02/05/2018

The European Commission has announced a plan to tax non-recycled plastic packaging waste today within the new EU budget – but this will fail to address the plastic pollution crisis, say the Rethink Plastic alliance.

The proposal, unveiled in the Multiannual Financial Framework, focuses on taxing the quantity of plastic packaging waste generated in each Member State that is not recycled, but does not include any incentive to encourage the reduction of plastic at source, nor for improved collection. Rather than making polluters pay by internalising the costs of plastic waste, Member States – hence taxpayers – will have to foot the bill for companies that continue to place plastics that are non-recyclable, or can only be downcycled to a lower value, on the market.

Surfrider Foundation Europe’s Justine Maillot, speaking on behalf of the Rethink Plastic, said: “With this tax, the Commission is going against the principles of the waste hierarchy, by prioritising recycling over prevention and reuse”.

Such an “end of life” economic incentive fails to tackle the existing obstacles to a circular economy for plastics, such as the low price of crude oil, encouraging companies to meet their supply chain demands with virgin plastic.

“Any tax on plastic should be applied to virgin plastic production, to make the price of recycled plastic competitive. It is high time the Commission starts creating the right economic incentives for companies to truly implement circular economy legislation through better product and packaging design”, added Justine Maillot.

The tax as it is designed also presents the following flaws:

  • It only covers plastic packaging, which represents just 40% of plastics placed on the market, and does not address all single-use plastic items of high pollution potential.
  • It relies on the information made available by producers via Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, where the data collected is not independently verified. In some cases, clear lack of data robustness has been detected [1].
  • Even if Member States meet the new plastic packaging recycling target of 55% by 2030 (as stipulated in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive), they will still have to pay the tax.
  • There is no current definition of what is a recyclable plastic and what is not, hence leaving the door open for Member States to report what is recycled and not, as they wish.
  • The revenues raised will contribute to stimulate investment in recycling facilities – whilst this is important, the primary aim should be to stimulate investment further up the waste hierarchy such as plastic waste prevention measures and reuse systems.

For a plastic tax to truly disincentivise plastic pollution at source, the European Commission must design a tax at the EU-level on virgin plastics production.


[1] The latest Member State where irregularities have been detected is the UK, but many other cases have been highlighted over the years. Eunomia (2018), Plastic packaging – shedding light on the UK data

Rethink Plastic