The levy on disposable plastic items has not yet had the desired effect. There is still as much litter on the streets as before July 1, the day the levy came into effect. Politicians hoped that people would, for example, go to snack bars with their own reusable containers, but that hardly happens.
Since July, consumers have had to pay extra for plastic containers and packaging. Catering entrepreneurs must state that amount separately on the receipt. They decide for themselves how high the levy is. The differences are large: some charge only 1 cent for fear of losing customers, while others charge 30 cents for a coffee cup. In addition to this levy, the entrepreneur is obliged to offer a sustainable alternative, or there must be a ‘bring your own’ option.
Just as much litter
Dutch people throw away approximately 19 million plastic cups and food packaging every day. “I still encounter just as many disposable cups as before,” says Dirk Groot, who has been researching litter for years. He collects waste and registers locations, type of raw material and brand. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and various municipalities, among others, use Groot’s data.
“The only thing that stands out is that more than half of these cups now have cardboard lids, while previously they were all plastic.”
Groot also registers many sauce containers. “These are taken by birds and eaten somewhere else. Birds are not very tidy, so they do not return the containers.”
Consumers do not really know what the idea is behind it, where the money goes and what happens to it.
Associate Professor Hans Risselada
The question is whether the levy will induce consumers to change their behavior. Hans Risselada of the University of Groningen doesn’t think so. He does a lot of research into consumer behavior. “Firstly, the levy is focused on costs, without always being linked to a sustainable alternative. The consumer does not always have a choice. In addition, the levy is levied differently everywhere, so it is confusing for the consumer.”
Moreover, not all entrepreneurs comply with the mandatory levy, says the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate. For example, Cees van der Sloot, fishmonger in Bloemendaal, refuses to raise his prices because he fears that customers will find it too expensive:
“What it costs? A lot of hassle!”
So it is not a tax – then the money would go to the government – but a levy. This means that the proceeds end up in the pocket of the entrepreneur. They can decide for themselves what they do with the money, although the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management hopes that they use it to get sustainable alternatives off the ground.
The ministry’s guidelines are as follows: 5 cents for a small package, 25 cents for a cup and 50 for a meal package. But in practice it appears that supermarkets in particular charge 1 cent for all types of packaging.
Trade association Koninklijke Horeca Nederland sees that entrepreneurs are struggling with the new rules. “It is quite a complicated process,” a spokesperson told Nieuwsuur. “Any new legislation takes time to implement and we must give entrepreneurs that time.” That is why the trade association hopes that the government will not fine entrepreneurs for the time being.
Still, Risselada is hopeful that things will turn out well with the levy. It will help if the government determines one fixed amount, rather than entrepreneurs choosing a price themselves. He also believes it would be good if the government communicated its tax policy better, for example through campaign commercials. “Consumers don’t really know what the idea is behind it, where the money goes and what happens with it.”
Set a good example, Risselada emphasizes. If a few people buy reusable cups, the rest will quickly follow. “If people sit on the train with this and hang the cup on their bag, this could become the new normal. Then these kinds of changes can happen very quickly.”
More anti-plastic rules
A new measure will soon follow: from January 1, hotels, cafes and restaurants will no longer be allowed to offer disposable cups or containers with plastic when guests eat inside or on their terrace. Reusable tableware will then become the standard.
Litter researcher Dirk Groot argues for a deposit. After all, that works very well with cans and bottles. Since the introduction of deposits for cans and small bottles, there has been considerably less litter on the street. “And when it is thrown away, it is soon cleaned up by others.”