Let customers return packaging to shops, says environment minister

Summary

Supermarkets are unhappy about a proposal by Joke Schauvliege to allow customers to bring certain types of packaging waste back to the point of purchase to be disposed of centrally

‘Extra red tape’

Flemish environment minister Joke Schauvliege has proposed allowing customers to bring some forms of packaging back to shops, so it can be disposed of centrally. The measure concerns the plastic that holds a number of items together, such as bottles of mineral water.

This type of waste must be thrown out but often ends up in the blue bag for PMD, which is not allowed. Shoppers are already allowed to remove the plastic in the shop and leave it behind, said Schauvliege.

“Leaving packaging behind is no problem, and we keep our members informed about that option,” said Dominique Michel, spokesperson for sector federation Comeos. “Bringing packaging back is another story. The supermarket is not a container park.”           

A law once required shops to take back packaging, but that was overruled by an agreement between the sector and the regional governments, which recognised that a shop would be unable to determine whether the packaging had originated in that store. “It was never the idea that people could just stuff everything into a plastic bag and bring it back,” said a spokesperson for supermarket chain Carrefour.

The Schauvliege plan would “cause extra red tape for the retailer, not to mention the extra costs of storage and disposal,” said Luc Ardies of Buurtsuper.be, a subsidiary of Unizo that represents small shops. The industry, he said, had agreed with the government to help finance the disposal and treatment of packaging via a Green Point contribution.

“There can be no question of making us pay a second time for the collection and disposal of packaging waste,” he said. “We are also unable to see what the advantage is for the consumer in being able to bring waste back to the shop, when it can be picked up at home.”

According to recent research, up to one-third of everything put into the blue waste bag should not be there. One solution would be to increase what is allowed in the bag, which Schauvliege is working on, she said.

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