Plastic crisis: taxes are vital to cut pollution, but EU plans fall short, new study finds

Taxing plastics can help lead to a responsible use of the material by triggering the necessary reduction of both production and consumption, a new report finds. However, a plastic tax will only work if designed to influence producer and consumer behaviour, rather than raising revenue.

The study “The price is right … or is it? The case for taxing plastic”, carried out by the New Economic Foundation for the Rethink Plastic alliance [1], reveals how the European Commission’s proposal to tax unrecycled plastic packaging will only incentivise Member States to increase recycling, without actually tackling the underlying problem of unsustainable production and consumption of plastic [2].

Speaking on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance, Ariadna Rodrigo, Sustainable Products Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, said: “We cannot recycle our way out of plastic pollution. Given the scale and urgency of the problem, a set of economic incentives to cut the production of new plastic while promoting reuse and recycling is urgently needed to stop plastic pollution at source and accelerate the move towards a circular economy.”

The report also highlights how:

  • Environmental taxation and other economic incentives have a strong role to play in fighting plastic pollution and accelerating the transition to a circular economy.
  • While in the short term a new plastic tax could generate significant revenue, relying on this in the long term could lead to perverse consequences, such as political opposition to ambitious action to reduce the use of plastic.
  • While a single tax will not by itself trigger the breadth of responses needed from producers and consumers, a set of measures targeting different stages of the production and supply chain of plastics would be a key step towards the reduction of its use
  • In some cases, banning a certain use of plastics is more effective than taxing it.

Ariadna Rodrigo continued: “Plastics have entered our food and water and are causing devastating impacts on our environment, yet the generation of plastic waste continues to escalate. Taxes are a key tool to help solve the plastic pollution problem.”

The Rethink Plastic alliance calls on the EU must broaden the scope of the proposed tax on non-recycled plastic packaging waste in the Multiannual Financial Framework, in order to ensure a focus on plastic prevention all along the supply chain.


[1] Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, with thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. We bring together policy and technical expertise from a variety of relevant fields, and work with European policy-makers to design and deliver policy solutions for a future that is free from plastic pollution. We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, along with over 1200 NGOs and millions of citizens worldwide.

[2] The report analyses five different types of plastic tax, their advantages and disadvantages. Whereas taxes on production are less likely to impact consumer behaviour, they are in theory easier to administer. On the other hand, taxes on consumption help to change both individual behaviour and shape the public debate, but may do little to change the production methods of the industry

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