“Our goal? To remain best in class for recycling”


Wim Geens, Managing Director of Fost Plus, looks to the future

“Ten per cent of the packaging that comes onto the market is not collected up again for recycling. So these materials are lost to the circular economy and that is a shame.” These are the words of Fost Plus Managing Director Wim Geens. The non-profit association which takes charge of the coordination and funding of the recycling chain for household packaging achieved a recycling percentage of 89.9% for the year 2021. This places Belgium among the leaders in Europe, despite a more than challenging year. “In 2021, we went from four million inhabitants who used the New Blue Bag to all 11.5 million inhabitants. The rollout was phased and the last intermunicipal organisations only switched in October. They have been part of the new system for just a few months. This increase in collection - and therefore recycling – is great, but it is by no means easy.”


Getting rid of that empty packaging

However, that was not the only hurdle that had to be cleared in 2021. Out-of-home collection was not at cruising speed either, albeit for other reasons. The successive lockdowns and restrictions meant that we worked less at the office and spent less time in sports clubs, at festivals or at sporting events – all locations that commonly generate a lot of PMD. “At home, we usually sort fairly well. Thanks to the extension of the sorting message made possible by the New Blue Bag, almost all plastic packaging can now be put with the PMD. This minimises the risk of sorting errors. Out of home, it’s not so easy. There, we usually just want to get rid of that empty packaging as quickly as possible. And yes, unfortunately, it sometimes ends up as litter.”

Fost Plus aims to offer a recycling solution for all packaging put on the market. But to do this, first of all, that packaging has to become part of the chain. “From January 2023, companies that put packaged products on the market will bear the cost of litter resulting from their packaging. This is a further step in the Extended Producer Responsibility. It already exists for the end-of-life cycle of packing, i.e. recycling. They can outsource this responsibility by joining the Fost Plus collective system. We aim to play a coordinating role for litter too.”


Lasting change in behaviour

Of course, not all litter consists of packaging. It also includes cigarette butts, dog dirt and chewing gum, for example. So a coordinating role means that Fost Plus wants to cooperate with all stakeholders in the field. As much packaging as possible needs to be removed from litter so that the materials can be recycled and returned to the circular economy as secondary raw materials. “We want to keep what works well. Door-to-door PMD collection, for example. But more will be needed. With the Green Deal Anders Verpakt, industry and trade focus on less packaging and reusable packaging. Where this is possible, it will be a huge step forward. In addition, we need innovative digital systems to ensure that the single-use packaging that is still necessary finds its way to the recycling chain, too. Although it is still limited in scale at the moment, the Click project is a good example of this.”

Clearly, this is a holistic approach. That will be needed, too, so as to close the gap between 90% and 100%. “We aren’t rushing into things. Together with the sector federations Fevia and Comeos, we have drawn up a total plan, underpinned by carefully considered communication and awareness raising. That is still necessary if you want to bring about a real, lasting change in behaviour.”

The ultimate goal? Europe is imposing stringent recycling targets. Belgium is going a step further. Fost Plus achieved each of the predetermined milestones in 2021 as well. “Belgium can be proud of its efficient recycling chain for household packaging. With the progress we have already made, five new sorting centres and shortly five new recycling centres, we have a created no fewer than 500 direct jobs and twice as many indirect ones. What sector can claim to have done that today? Now it’s a matter of taking the final step so that we remain best in class in the future too.”