Are the single use plastic rules heading for the rubbish bin?

The government has effectively abandoned the system of charging deposits on single-use plastic cups and food boxes by announcing on Thursday that environmental inspectors will no longer check up on compliance with most of the rules. 

In addition, offices, sports clubs, and schools need not fear inspectors’s visits if they continue to use plastic throwaway cups – a ban should have come into force in January – caretaker junior minister Vivianne Heijnen told MPs in a briefing.

Her decision follows three parliamentary votes in favour of changing the rules in October, put forward by the SP and the VVD. A extra charge for single use plastics was introduced in July, despite criticism that it was unworkable and that companies were simply pocketing the cash.  

Heijnen said the approach she is now taking will give her successor in the new government maximum opportunity to make their own choices. 

“But I would call on companies, organisations and all levels of government to continue to follow the rules so we can make the much needed transition from throwaway to resuable,” she said. “Many have carried out all the necessary preparations to comply with the current regulations and have invested in reusable systems and deposit systems,” the minister said. 

The Dutch legislation stems from European rules that aim to stimulate reusable packaging. Some 19 million plastic cups and food packages are thrown away in the Netherlands every year and the aim was to reduce this by 40% by 2026. 

Government inspectors (ILT) told broadcaster NOS in October that the surcharge is unenforceable and susceptible to fraud, and this is something they knew before the surcharge was introduced. 

The ILT said it believes the surcharge was more “symbolic legislation” and says it’s better to ban the use of disposable plastics instead of implementing complicated and unenforceable rules.

The charge was rolled out in July to much confusion. The rates vary from business to business, with some companies criticized for charging too much, while others, including many supermarkets, first charging 5 cents but lowering that to a symbolic one cent.

Since charges were introduced for plastic bags in 2017, the number of bags found in regular litter has dropped by 70%.

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