The environmental impact of the Dutch packaging tax

At the request of the Dutch Finance ministry, CE Delft has reviewed the environmental impact of the Netherlands’ packaging tax. This tax is indexed to greenhouse gas emissions and the review was aimed specifically at assessing the climate impact of the tax. Given the brief history of the tax at the time of writing and the fact that the available data on packaging volumes and composition before and after introduction of the tax were not comparable, it emerged that a reliable quantitative analysis was as yet unfeasible. This review is therefore based on a qualitative analysis, using information derived from eighteen in-depth interviews with players in the packaging market, foreign experience in this area, relevant price elasticities and expert estimates.

The picture to emerge from this review is that to data the packaging tax has had only a limited impact on the packaging market. Although the interviewees cited several examples of industries and sectors where the tax has given companies an incentive to modify their packaging strategy, in their view this is not (yet) the case for the majority of companies. In the longer term (ten years or so) more substantial effects are anticipated, but in the view of those interviewed these will remain limited. The following reasons were cited for the limited effects (in both the short and long term): the limited financial incentive provided by the tax, the fact that corporate packaging strategies are determined by other factors besides costs, the highly international nature of the packaging market, and the lack of a stable policy framework. The environmental impact of the packaging tax would be greatly amplified if the rates were substantially increased.