Spain moves to tax plastic packaging, push for substitution ‘discriminatory’ - EsPlasticos

Author: Jonathan Lopez

2021/09/07

LONDON (ICIS)--Spain’s plans to tax plastics packaging is coming at the wrong time because the industry is only just recovering from the economic hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic, an executive at trade group EsPlasticos told ICIS.

Luis Cediel, director general at Spain’s ANAIP, the association of plastic producers which is part of EsPlasticos, said that instead of a tax on plastics packaging – potentially at €450/tonne – the Spanish cabinet should focus on efforts to implement a landfill tax.

He said a landfill tax will put the responsibility for recycling on the final consumer, while taxing waste that could have been recycled but was not.

Cediel added that a move to substitute plastic in the olive oil production sector, one of Spain’s main food-related industries and a major exporter, would be “discriminatory” and will not solve the fundamental problem of plastics waste.

The ANAIP executive added that chemicals recycling will be key to increasing recycling rates, and the Spanish authorities as well as the EU should recognise the technology as part of the circular solution to increase re-use.

EsPlastics is a plastics industry-wide trade group founded by ANAIP, the recycling non-profit organisation Cicloplast, the research institute for plastics body Aimplas, as well the European trade group PlasticsEurope.

AVOID TAXES ON PACKAGING
Although the EU’s Green Deal and plans to lower carbon emissions prompted all 27 countries in the bloc to implement a tax on plastics aimed at packaging, many states decided to postpone their implementation in 2021 due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The Spanish government, however, is pushing ahead.

“Spain is one of the few countries that is introducing a tax on non-reusable plastic packaging placed on the national market, in order to raise more revenue to help meet the European contribution for non-recycled plastic packaging,” said Cediel.

“Other countries, given the economic situation caused by COVID-19, have chosen not to create new taxes and to pay the European contribution from their own resources.”

According to figures from PlasticEurope’s annual factsheet on plastics in 2020, Spain was second in terms of recycling of packaging materials within the EU.

Source: PlasticsEurope

However, Spain's high recycling rates were matched by a high percentage of waste still going to landfill.

Source: PlasticsEurope

Due to the high percentage of waste going into landfill, EsPlastics favours a landfill tax which would penalise waste ending up there.

As the graph above shows, countries with landfill restrictions – including Germany – have managed to reduce landfill use to a minimum, with a high percentage of waste going into energy production.

“The [plastics] sector is proposing a national landfill tax, similar to other European countries which would penalise the dumping of waste that can be recycled," said Cediel.

“For EsPlasticos, it is curious that a proposal defined by the Ministry itself as environmental is not preceded by an environmental impact study (carbon footprint or resource consumption) for products and materials.

“In this respect, industry figures are compelling: replacing all European plastic packaging would use twice as much energy per year, tripling greenhouse gas emissions (97.4m tonnes compared with 36.6m tonnes.)”

CHEMICAL RECYCLING PUSH
The wider chemicals industry in Spain, represented by trade group Feique, is pushing for chemical recycling to be recognised to increase the circularity of plastics - something the plastics industry has also taken head on.

In an interview with ICIS in June, Feique’s president said Spain could only meet its circularity targets with chemical recycling included as a technology, and this would allow for a substantial increase in recycling rates.

Cediel agrees. “Chemical recycling is undoubtedly a way to move towards an even more sustainable and circular economy, without forgetting that it is a complementary process to mechanical recycling,” he told ICIS.

Spain’s robust olive oil sector has used plastics as its main packaging for decades, and undoubtedly it was bound to be at the centre of the debate surrounding the material.

While the Spanish press has been filled with reports about substitution, the truth is that plastics are abundant and affordable and reliable, whereas other materials would increase costs and potentially reduce the quality of packaging.

Cediel went as far as saying regulations to force substitution would be “discriminatory” against the plastics industry and would not fix the problem of waste management.

“It will simply substitute one material for another. This substitution will not bring about any change in the uncivic behaviour that causes waste of all kinds to end up in the environment,” said Cediel.

“Moreover, plastic is a material that contributes to sustainable development by reducing food waste and improving the carbon footprint due to its light weight.

“We believe that a landfill tax would be a much more effective and sustainable alternative to a plastic tax both in terms of improving the environment, reducing the impact of waste and moving towards a circular economy.”

Front page picture: Bins for waste separation in the Canary Islands, Spain
Source: Michael Weber/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Interview article by Jonathan Lopez

Clarification: Re-casts headline, story throughout to reflect the potential tax would be applied to plastic packaging, not plastics production