Italy’s plastic tax proposal angers ‘packaging valley’ before crucial regional vote

A packaging machine with a tetrapack's roll in the Parmalat's food company in Collecchio' near Parma. [BENVENUTI/EPA]

The government is open to rediscuss a proposed tax on single-use plastics, out of concern for the country’s world-leading packaging sector based in Emilia-Romagna where regional elections are scheduled in January.

In a TV interview on Sunday (3 November), Italian Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri said he was open to rediscuss the proposal with industry, after the announcement of the levy caused a stir among ruling parties.

The proposal needs to be redesigned in order to reduce the overall economic impact on Italian territories, he said.

“However, it is obvious to all that we must reduce the use of single-use plastic: we can’t applaud the young people who take to the streets asking for a better environment and then not acting accordingly,” the former MEP added.

The levy was included in the first draft of Italy’s next budget law and would currently weigh on plastic manufacturers, who are expected to pay €1 for any kilo of plastic product such as bottles, plugs, salad bags, trays for detergents and product labels.

Starting from April 2020, the proposed tax would also cover cartons for milk and juice, as well as polystyrene foam, but not syringe needles and re-usable boxes to store foodstuffs.

The draft budget law also provides incentives for manufacturers who will adapt their equipment to biodegradable materials.

The measure complies with an EU ban on throwaway plastic that was recently approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council of ministers. The EU law will come into effect in 2021 and includes a 77% collection target for plastic bottles by 2025, going up to 90% by 2029.

EU nails rapid-fire deal on single-use plastics

Negotiators of the European Parliament, Council and Commission struck a provisional agreement early Wednesday morning (19 December) on banning single-use plastic products like cutlery and food containers, in what is one of the most quickly finalised proposals in recent EU memory.

Strongly requested by the anti-establishment party Five Star Movement, the tax was initially disputed by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, whose centrist party Italia Viva is in the parliamentary majority that backs the government.

For Renzi, the plastic tax is a blow to the middle class. He promised to propose amendments and change the law as it passes through the country’s Parliament.

Consumer organisations, for their part, fear that producers will pass on the costs to the final consumer by raising the price of products. According to Federconsumatori, the plastic tax could cost €180 for each citizen every year.

“I see a surreal debate about the plastic tax,” said Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio whose party led the proposal. “Historical reforms to save the planet are always mentioned in electoral programmes, however, when it comes to walking the walk, some parties turn to the other side,” he said in bitter comments.

The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is split over the proposed plastic tax because it is expected to harm several companies established in Emilia-Romagna, a “red” region where crucial regional elections will be held in January.

A “packaging valley” has flourished in the last decades around the region’s capital Bologna, with 228 companies, more than 17,000 employees and a yearly turnover of €4.4 billion in the packaging sector.

Emilia-Romagna also has the world’s largest concentration of companies building automatic machinery for packaging, a sector with a high export propensity.

Current governor Stefano Bonaccini, who is running for a second mandate with the PD, asked the government to reconsider the plastic tax, saying his region will pay the highest price for it.

Bonaccini said he was confident that the issue will be resolved quickly and that the government will change its mind, redesigning the levy by “meeting the demands that come from the territory.”

After the landslide electoral victory of Salvini’s Lega in Umbria, a region which was never ruled by right-wing parties, the ruling PD wants to proceed with caution on the plastic tax in order to keep the electoral consensus and avoid a similar outcome also for Emilia-Romagna.

‘Broad support’ for EU-wide plastic tax

A European tax on plastic waste is gaining momentum as a way to bring new sources of revenue to the EU budget as leaders prepare for a two-day summit in Brussels beginning on Thursday (17 October).

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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