"Plastic tax": New challenge for companies?

On 01.01.2021, the so-cal­led plas­tic tax came into force at EU le­vel. Since then, mem­ber sta­tes must pay a monthly levy on non-re­cy­cled pa­cka­ging waste to the EU. Even though the levy is in­iti­ally ai­med at the EU mem­ber sta­tes, it can also be­come a chal­lenge for com­pa­nies.

In fact, this plas­tic tax is not a tax in the true sense of the word, but a levy from the mem­ber sta­tes to the EU. This was ad­op­ted as part of the Own Re­sour­ces De­ci­sion for fi­nan­cing the EU bud­get on De­cem­ber 14, 2020. Since Ja­nu­ary 1, 2021, the EU mem­ber sta­tes have been ob­li­ged to pay a levy of 0.80 eu­ros on every ki­lo­gram of non-re­cy­cled plas­tic pa­cka­ging waste. This in­clu­des, for ex­am­ple, pa­cka­ging ma­te­ri­als that are not in­ten­ded for sub­se­quent fur­ther pro­ces­sing into pro­ducts, ma­te­ri­als or sub­stan­ces.

Mo­re­over, the plas­tic tax is not ear­mar­ked for a spe­ci­fic pur­pose. A di­rect pro­mo­tion of the cir­cu­lar eco­nomy, e.g. in or­der to de­ve­lop new so­lu­ti­ons for the plas­tics pro­blem, is the­re­fore not ta­king place at EU le­vel th­rough the plas­tic levy. Ra­ther, the levy was ori­gi­nally in­ten­ded to be in­tro­du­ced to cushion the fun­ding gaps re­sul­ting from Brexit. In ad­di­tion, it ser­ves as an eco­lo­gi­cal con­trol in­stru­ment and is in­ten­ded to re­duce plas­tic waste in the EU mem­ber sta­tes.

How do the member states deal with this?

The EU mem­ber sta­tes can de­cide for them­sel­ves how to re­fi­nance the plas­tic levy. The na­tio­nal im­ple­men­ta­tion in the in­di­vi­dual mem­ber sta­tes va­ries ac­cor­din­gly. While some coun­tries, such as Ger­many, Lu­xem­bourg or Aus­tria, fi­nance the levy from the bud­get, others, es­pe­cially sou­thern Eu­ro­pean coun­tries, have op­ted to pass on the ex­pen­ses in­cur­red by the levy to the pri­vate sec­tor. Italy, for ex­am­ple, has de­ci­ded to in­tro­duce a tax on dis­po­sa­ble pro­ducts as of Ja­nu­ary 1, 2023. The tax debtor here is ba­si­cally the plas­tic ma­nu­fac­turer. Howe­ver, if dis­po­sa­ble pa­cka­ging is im­por­ted into Italy from other EU coun­tries, the for­eign im­por­ter may also be lia­ble for the tax. In Por­tu­gal, too, a tax of 0.30 euro per pa­ckage is to be le­vied on sin­gle-use plas­tic pa­cka­ging from July 1, 2022, and ad­di­tio­nally on alu­mi­num pa­cka­ging from Ja­nu­ary 1, 2023.

Note: Non-EU coun­tries also levy a plas­tic tax. In the UK, for ex­am­ple, plas­tic pa­cka­ging made of less than 30% re­cy­cled plas­tic will be ta­xed from April 1, 2022. The tax ap­plies to fil­led and em­pty pa­cka­ging pro­du­ced in the UK or im­por­ted to the UK. All com­pa­nies that im­port or ma­nu­fac­ture more than 10 tons of such plas­tic pa­cka­ging in a 12-month pe­riod are sub­ject to the tax.

In ad­di­tion to these plas­tic ta­xes that have al­re­ady been pas­sed, fu­ture ta­xa­tion of pa­cka­ging is ex­pec­ted in other EU coun­tries.

The plans of the new federal government

In Ger­many, the plas­tic levy is cur­rently paid from the fe­deral bud­get, i.e. from ge­ne­ral tax re­ve­nues. So far, the contri­bu­tion has not been ap­por­tio­ned to the pri­vate sec­tor. Howe­ver, ac­cor­ding to the new fe­deral go­vern­ment's plans for a na­tio­nal cir­cu­lar eco­nomy stra­tegy, this could soon change. Ac­cor­ding to the co­ali­tion agree­ment, the plas­tic levy is to be pas­sed on to ma­nu­fac­turers and dis­tri­bu­tors, as in other Eu­ro­pean coun­tries. It is not clear from the co­ali­tion agree­ment how such a levy is to be struc­tu­red in con­crete terms. In ad­di­tion to an ac­tual plas­tic tax, it would also be pos­si­ble to pass on the costs via va­rious in­cen­tive and tax mo­dels. It would also be con­ceivable to pay a contri­bu­tion into a fund, which in turn would be­ne­fit the cir­cu­lar eco­nomy and the en­viron­ment. The mo­del of the city of Tübin­gen could also be used as an ex­am­ple. Since Ja­nu­ary 1, 2022, a pa­cka­ging tax of up to 0.50 eu­ros has been le­vied on dis­po­sa­ble pa­cka­ging that is used once or for a short pe­riod of time. The tax is thus ai­med at pa­cka­ging for "to-go con­sump­tion". The points of sale of the dis­po­sa­ble pa­cka­ging are lia­ble to pay the tax.

As this ex­am­ple shows, the Ger­man go­vern­ment's plans af­fect not only the pa­cka­ging in­dus­try, but also re­tailers, the food ser­vice in­dus­try, the con­su­mer goods sec­tor and other com­pa­nies that use plas­tic pa­cka­ging.

Current challenges for companies

Even though com­pa­nies in Ger­many have not yet been made lia­ble, there is al­re­ady a need for ac­tion, par­ti­cu­larly for com­pa­nies with sub­si­dia­ries in other EU coun­tries. As there are no plans for EU-wide har­mo­niza­tion of the plas­tic tax, the main chal­lenge is to keep track of cur­rent de­ve­lop­ments and the as­so­cia­ted ad­mi­nis­tra­tive ob­li­ga­ti­ons in the in­di­vi­dual mem­ber sta­tes. Ano­ther im­port­ant role is to ob­tain data that can be used to de­ter­mine and mo­ni­tor the costs re­sul­ting from a plas­tic tax. If ne­cessary, it may also be wor­thwhile to ana­lyze the com­pany's own supply chains and op­ti­mize them with re­gard to the plas­tic ta­xes in­cur­red. 

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