20 years of contribution to sustainable development

How the recycling of household packaging became a habit

Fertile soil

An ecological and economic awareness

In 1994, waste management was not as well-regulated and organized as it is today. On the national level, the scenario for selective collection that encourages citizens to sort their waste was merely an idea. As the population became more aware of the ecological challenges, two elements combined to create fertile soil for developing the sustainable management of packaging waste: the legislative framework and the pro-activeness of Belgian companies.

The legislative framework 

European Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste, and – in its slipstream – the concept of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), prompted the industry to take action. 


The pro-activeness of the industry

Belgian companies pre-empted Europe’s legislation and its ambitions. Very early on, they demonstrated their willingness to establish a sustainable system for managing packaging waste with an optimum cost/effectiveness ratio. They remained unwavering and stayed the course in spite of the eco-tax on drinks packaging, which financially disadvantages companies, while they already fully accept their environmental responsibility as members of Fost Plus.

A new kid on the block

Fost Plus was created shortly thereafter. Its foundation was preceded by extensive studies that established the organization’s principles of operation as well as providing the basis for the collection and sorting system. In 1998, the Fost Plus system was acknowledged by the authorities, following the signing of the Cooperation Agreement. The agreement established a consistent approach to the management of packaging waste for the entire country. It also fulfilled the need of private and public stakeholders who wanted to professionalize the treatment of packaging waste, both for ecological and economic reasons. The treatment of packaging waste was thus incorporated into the existing collection of household waste, reducing costs and enhancing recycling results. 

Fost Plus is the result of a crossing between a binding legal framework and the pro-activeness of the industry

Deep roots

The Belgian system for the treatment of household packaging waste was able to develop and generate convincing results because of its strong roots in the fertile soil referred to above.

A shared responsibility between authorities and industry

Fost Plus enabled the industry to fully embrace its responsibility and integrate it into the existing systems for waste management. The modalities of collaboration and operation were defined in mutual agreement by both the public and private sector and led to the establishment of a unique organization, based on a clear vision and shared responsibility between the industry and the authorities.


A not-for-profit association

As a not-for-profit association, Fost Plus was able to establish a climate of trust with all stakeholders while ensuring that the public interest  prevailed over any commercial interests. 


A public service mission

Fost Plus’s public service mission ensures that all citizens are treated equally. The system covers the entire country and serves all of its citizens, at the same cost for everyone, whether they live in a rural area or in the center of a city.

The principle of solidarity

The system put into place is based on the principle of solidarity between all packaging materials and all sectors.  The financing of the system was designed to take into account the actual cost of recycling, while a built-in solidarity mechanism ensures all materials, whether recycled or not, to participate in the joint effort. This equitable approach was instrumental in uniting the industry around a single concept.



The system put into place is based on the principle of solidarity between all packaging materials and all sectors


A solid trunk

11 million tons recycled in 20 years

With one ton of recycled packaging waste per inhabitant over a twenty-year period and almost 90% of all household packaging waste recycled, Belgium leads the international pack. It is the most tangible contribution of Fost Plus to sustainable development. For every kilogram of recycled material, other raw materials have been saved and CO2 emissions have been reduced.  

A service close to the citizen

Fost Plus has developed a complete range of services close to the citizens, including door-to-door collections and a network of drop off containers. The service was integrated into the existing organization of household waste collections by municipalities and inter-municipal authorities. It is supported by decisive policy-making by the authorities, including a pay-as-you-throw system for residual household waste based on weight or volume. 

Strong awareness based on a consistent message

Belgian citizens have grown accustomed to sorting their waste and understand its importance. This is due in large measure to repeated communications and the continuous effort to raise public awareness. 




Creating a stable market 

By making informed choices regarding the types of packaging to be collected, almost all of this packaging is now being recycled. These choices are regularly validated through studies and pilot projects. The demand for our sorted materials has proven to be constant and the prices that recyclers offer are always in line with those of the raw materials. This stable market has enabled continuous investments in various technological innovations for sorting and recycling, including multifunctional optical sorting, automated sorting lines, and the expansion of recycling processes for other types of packaging. Packaging waste has thus been transformed into a valuable resource for a sustainable recycling industry, both in Belgium and in Europe.


With the active support of the industry 

Companies are fully aware of the environmental benefits of recycling packaging and the use of recycled materials to produce new packaging. They take their social responsibility by handling the organization of the entire system for recycling packaging in Belgium. By using the output of this recycling effort in the manufacture of new packaging, they are effectively closing the loop. 

 Avoiding 10 million tons of CO2 in 20 years 

Recycling reduces the need for raw materials, which in turn  impressively reduces consumption of materials and energy and emissions of CO2. Its active involvement in the current system for recycling household packaging has enabled the industry to avoid the emission of 10 million tons of CO2 over the past 20 years. One of the spheres of the Brussels Atomium can contain 5 tons of pure CO2. Now imagine 2 million of these in the sky…


The approach of citizens and companies to waste has completely changed: what was once considered worthless has now become a valuable resource


Closely intertwined branches

the result of a joint effort

There is strength in unity, and this most certainly applies in a field as complex as the treatment of packaging waste. The enormous evolution in this area is directly due to the close involvement of all stakeholders at all levels of the chain, each with its own role and responsibilities. This involvement has deepened over the years through permanent dialogue between the partners in a process of co-creation, innovation and continuous improvement.

Fost Plus member companies

The member companies’ role is not restricted to their financial contribution to the system. Along with their federations, they initiated the system, they are members of the Board of Directors, and they actively participate in various working groups that impact the decisions made by Fost Plus in a number of areas, including communication, legislation, prevention and operational activities. They also strive to continuously improve the eco-design of their packaging to ensure the best possible end-of-life scenario through either recycling or recovery.

The three regions

The three regions not only agreed to a partnership with the industry, but also enabled a harmonized approach for the entire country through the Interregional Packaging Commission (IPC). This commission verifies the results of Fost Plus and issues the Fost Plus Accreditation, the legal operating framework which runs for a five-year period.


Local authorities

The municipalities and inter-municipal authorities are partners of crucial importance. They form the bridge between citizens and the selective collection: they make their inhabitants aware of the importance of correct sorting and ensure the follow-up of operations in the field.

Belgian citizens

The entire system relies on people sorting their waste at home. Belgian citizens are aware of the importance of efficient and correct sorting and have grown to look at waste very differently. The sorting of household packaging waste has also promoted the sorting of many other types of waste, including batteries, electrical and electronic waste and oils and fats. 


Waste management companies

Collecting companies, sorting centers and recyclers have continuously optimized their operations to improve the various stages of the treatment process and to ensure recycled materials of high quality: bi-compartment trucks, transfer stations, the use of routing software, automated sorting centers, et cetera. They consider these improvements to be both an economic and ecological opportunity.

Material organizations 

Fost Plus has built strong relationships of mutual trust with a number of technical experts, which have been gathered within the material organizations. These experts monitor the latest technological developments in terms of materials and recyclability so that sorting instructions and specifications are adapted to the realities in the field. They also actively seek out opportunities for R&D projects. 


Fost Plus employees

The employees of Fost Plus are fully committed to building and refining a crucial project in sustainable development. There are the pioneers, who came on board early and were proud to participate in the development of an ambitious project, and there are the more recent employees, who joined the company because they were drawn by the Fost Plus mission. They share a solid commitment and use their expertise in a project that is close to the heart of every citizen. 

There is strength in unity, and this most certainly applies in a field as complex as the treatment of packaging waste.





1. Citizens aware of the importance of sorting

An overwhelming majority of the Belgian population now sorts its waste. This is largely due to the high quality of the selective collection, and the many awareness campaigns that have been developed together with the inter-municipal authorities and which emphasize the importance of sorting.


A high-quality service

Step by step, Fost Plus has implemented a system of selective collection, in all Belgian municipalities, that meets  the needs of inhabitants. The selective collection has made citizens aware of the amount of waste they produce and the necessity to reduce it by sorting.

Awareness campaigns 

The awareness campaigns have seen a major evolution over time. The quantitative and participatory message from the early days, which emphasized the need and the reality of recycling, has gradually evolved into a more qualitative message that has now turned into a simple instruction: wherever you are, whatever you do, always sort your waste. The training of contact persons within the municipalities, including environmental officers and police services, has also helped to get the message across successfully.



‘Recycle!’ – a successful app

Using the new Recycle! app, smartphone owners never need to miss another collection round. They can also use the app to consult the sorting guide and the collection points in their neighborhood. Over 115,000 users have already downloaded it. Perhaps this hints at the beginning of the end for our best-known tool, the collection schedule, which is still happily used by 70% of the population.

In schools

It is important to learn how to sort at an early age. Since 2004, almost 30,000 animations in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools have made 500,000 children aware of the importance of sorting waste. The animations have been organized in collaboration with inter-municipal authorities and the not-for-profit association GoodPlanet. Sorting equipment has also been distributed, including 212,400 containers for school buildings and playgrounds.



Also out-of-home

Fost Plus conducts awareness campaigns at festivals, sports events and other recreational activities. These campaigns remind people that it is not just important to sort at home, but also when they are away from home. Fost Plus also provides containers for smaller-scale events via the inter-municipal authorities. Finally, various target groups such as sport centers, youth movements, campsites, beaches, offices and public transport, also receive special attention in order to encourage sorting.

The fight against litter 

Fost Plus actively contributes to the fight against litter, with studies, awareness campaigns and calls for projects. We also provide the necessary tools: in Flanders alone we have distributed 1,227,880 collection bags, 84,306 tongs, 156,280 gloves and 79,915 fluorescent vests.





2. Creating jobs and promoting professional development

The Fost Plus system has become a major source of employment, accounting for 2,361 direct and 205 indirect jobs. 74% of these are open to low-skilled workers who, thanks to practical training, can improve their skills and further develop their career. The recycling industry thus contributes to environmental and economic as well as social progress. Fost Plus has also lent its support to initiatives within the social economy, which facilitate the return to work for people who have difficulties in accessing the labor market.



Better working conditions

The automation of sorting lines – enabled by stable recycling markets – and the permanent attention to the comfort and safety of operators, have significantly improved working conditions within the waste sector. Thanks to better controls and targeted communication, the quality of the collected materials is rising, reducing the risk of work-related accidents.



An organization that invests in training

Over the past five years, Fost Plus has trained 3,047 employees of sorting centers, municipalities and waste management companies, in collaboration with the public employment agencies (VDAB and Forem) and GoodPlanet. The short and very practical courses are essentially aimed at improving waste collection and sorting. Fost Plus has also developed practical training programs on ergonomics and assertiveness, the latter to prevent or defuse disputes with citizens.

Since 2009, an online training module (e-learning) is available to all PMD sorting centers. A specific module for collectors was launched in 2011. These tools, which are based on practical scenarios, allow temporary workers to rapidly understand collection and sorting operations.

* Study RDC Environnement, April 2014




3. A quality approach for highly valued recycled materials

Today, recycled materials are generally viewed as valuable secondary raw materials. This is largely due to the stringent quality monitoring throughout the entire value chain: correct sorting leads to effective recycling, which in turn leads to high-quality recycled products.



Improving quality of collections

The quality of collected materials has improved year by year. The door-to-door collections and the standardized sorting rules have proven to be smart choices. The average residual percentage – the proportion of waste in PMD bags that does  not comply with the sorting rules – has been about 15 % since 2003. Since 1999, the use of refusal stickers, which collectors apply to bags that contain incorrectly sorted materials, have had a marked effect. The same goes for the financial incentive for inter-municipal authorities that achieve a residual percentage below 20%. The total bonus can amount to EUR 800,000 a year.

The optimization of the glass collection via the glass recycling bins, the reinforcement of the bottle bank sites’ foundations, and the additional surveillance of their cleanliness, have helped to improve the service to citizens and the quality of recycled materials. On average, 15 to 20% of the sites are still regularly listed as soiled, although major efforts are being made to reduce this figure.

The high quality of the paper and cardboard collected has always remained stable, which is confirmed by permanent analyses in the field.


The optimization of the glass collection via the glass recycling bins, the reinforcement of the bottle bank sites’ foundations, and the additional surveillance of their cleanliness, have helped to improve the service to citizens and the quality of recycled materials. On average, 15 to 20% of the sites are still regularly listed as soiled, although major efforts are being made to reduce this figure.

The high quality of the paper and cardboard collected has always remained stable, which is confirmed by permanent analyses in the field.

Inspections in sorting centers and at the recyclers

Fost Plus regularly inspects the materials that leave the sorting centers or arrive at the recyclers in order to guarantee the quality of the supplies. The principal objective is to detect the presence of contaminants and ensure that certain thresholds are not exceeded. According to the experts at the material organizations, the quality of the batches that arrive at recyclers is among the highest in Europe. This high quality is appreciated by recycling companies both in Belgium and abroad. The degree of purity of the bales leaving the sorting centers is higher than 98%.



Quality and ethics

The recycling companies – most of them located in Belgium and its neighboring countries – are all regularly submitted to comprehensive on-site audits by independent organizations. These audits verify the industrial capacity of the recyclers, the effective recycling of the materials, and the recyclers’ compliance with the strict ethical, social and environmental standards set out in the specifications. Approximately 30 of these audits are conducted every year.




4. Optimization: a priority for collecting and sorting operations

Together with inter-municipal authorities, Fost Plus is examining different possibilities to optimize collection schemes and avoid unnecessary travel. Hybrid trucks and route planning software can generate significant fuel savings. For several inter-municipal authorities, adapting collection routes will reduce the number of kilometers travelled by the trucks.


Permanent evaluation with the material organizations

The sorting scenarios that have been implemented have proven their effectiveness, but the waste sector is continuously evolving and new technologies could help recycle even more packaging. Fost Plus is working with experts for the various types of packaging materials to see whether it is possible to sort more, while still ensuring the same level of quality. In this respect, a study published at the end of 2012 helped to better understand the constraints, opportunities and challenges involved in the extended collection of plastic packaging.



Innovations that increase efficiency

In 2014, Fost Plus doubled the financial incentive for recycling plastic packaging other than plastic bottles and flasks. Alternative frequencies and modalities for the collection are currently being tested.





5. Credible results through transparent processing

Since the establishment of Fost Plus, a number of mechanisms have been set in place which guarantees the total transparency of all information flows throughout the entire processing chain. This data management helps increase the efficiency of collecting and sorting operations, enables to detect possible problems and reduces the risk of fraud. All stakeholders - citizens, companies and authorities - thus have the guarantee that materials are being recycled in an effective and sustainable manner.


Reliable statistics for the authorities

The online information flows and their permanent verification ensure that authorities have access to reliable statistical data at any time. It also enables the Interregional Packaging Commission to easily compile these data and present them to European authorities.


Real-time data 

The materials in each truck are weighed upon arrival and departure from the PMD sorting centers and at the recyclers. The data are entered in real time into a networked computer system, which verifies the information immediately. This provides inter-municipal authorities with an overview of the material flows collected on their territory. Fost Plus, as arbitrator, has almost instantaneous access to all of this information. Many waste management companies retrieve the data directly into their invoicing software, which increases efficiency and limits the risk of errors. Every month, 27,000 weighing notes are registered and verified by the various parties involved.



Computerization and administrative simplification 

Companies that market packaged products have to declare in detail the quantities and types of packaging they use. These data are regularly verified. Currently, 86% of declarations are submitted online, which reduces the number of errors while also generating substantial savings on paper. It also saves time, both for the companies and for Fost Plus. Certain target groups, including companies that put limited amounts of packaging into the market or certain specific industries, can submit their information using simplified but equally representative declarations.




6. Stable and controlled costs

A system’s sustainability is also measured by its economic viability. Although companies and citizens are increasingly aware of the environmental issues involved in waste treatment, they also pay close attention to costs and expect stability.


A pricing structure that rewards recycling

The financing of the system – backed by the companies that are members of Fost Plus – is based on a calculation method which takes into account both the costs and the revenues generated by the recycling of the collected materials. An additional weighting factor guarantees solidarity between the various types of materials. If a material is easy to recycle, this will benefit other materials that are more difficult to recycle, which in turn will have to pay a higher contribution.

Efficient management of operational costs has ensured stability in the contributions paid by member-companies. Variations in the contributions are mainly determined by the demand for recycled materials, which in turn depends on the global economic situation.



An effective sorting message

From the very beginning, the sorting message was determined by recycling specifications. As a result, more than 96% of the waste collected can be treated by recyclers using mechanical recycling processes. By adding up the various cost items – each of them the result of transparent calls for tender – and deducting the revenues from the sale of the materials, the total annual cost amounts to about EUR 6 per inhabitant, which is borne entirely by Fost Plus.





7. Better packaging design

Fost Plus encourages companies to optimize their packaging in every design stage and has developed a wide range of eco-design tools and services in close collaboration with its members and their federations. These tools and services not only help companies to increase the recyclability of their packaging, but they also stimulate a better use of the product and a sustainable end-of-life scenario for the packaging.



Eco-design tools for all members

Fost Plus offers its members custom advices, packaging diagnostics and two online tools:

Pack4ecodesign.org allows companies to conduct a simplified life cycle analysis for their packaging. The tool also proposes improvements that reduce the environmental footprint of the packaging.

Pack4recycling.be, enables companies to evaluate the recyclability of their packaging in just a few clicks. The tool was developed in collaboration with the material organizations.

Both tools are also available at Preventpack.be, a site that provides information, newsletters and papers on best practices in packaging optimization. Fost Plus works with the industry federations and its counterpart VAL-I-PAC (industrial packaging) to raise awareness of packaging optimization, with the approval of the public authorities.


Competition through promotion 

The Greener Packaging Award reward companies that have reduced the ecological footprint of their packaging. Our members, along with students and designers, have entered 118 optimized packaging designs for nomination over the course of the two past editions.

Fost Plus also issues CO2 attestations to companies and recyclers that have reduced their CO2 emissions through their contribution to the collection, sorting and recycling system.




8. Expertise that is known and recognized, in Belgium and abroad

The Belgian system for the treatment of packaging waste is internationally recognized because of its convincing results and its favorable cost-effectiveness ratio.


An international reference

Fost Plus has welcomed several foreign delegations and is regularly invited to conferences around the world. The system for selective collection, sorting and recycling and the efficient collaboration between private and public sectors have generated a great deal of interest – from other organizations active in waste management as well as from the industry and foreign authorities.

A great number of international studies cite Belgium as an exemplary model because of its efficient transposition of the European directive on packaging and packaging waste and the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).



Sharing best practices in Europe

In 2013, Fost Plus co-founded EXPRA (Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance), an association grouping Fost Plus and its counterparts in other European countries and beyond. Its aim is to defend an EPR model based on a mission of general interest and to stimulate the exchange of best practices in this domain. EXPRA wants to help its member-organizations achieve a high level of operational excellence and create transnational collaborations for the collecting, sorting and recycling of packaging waste and packaging optimization.



At the service of other organizations

Since 2005, Fost Plus has advised several foreign organizations. The Belgian system has been a source of inspiration in several ways: the transposition of the European directive into Belgian legislation, the application of the Extended Producer Responsibility principle, the organization of operations in the field, the follow-up of waste management companies, the awareness campaigns and the eco-design tools.




9. A responsable employer

Fost Plus also takes its commitment to sustainable development to heart when it comes to its own organization. This is apparent at two levels: the satisfaction of its employees and the environmentally responsible management of its resources.


Well-being and personal development

The social and environmental dimension of the Fost Plus core activities attracts and motivates its employees. They can also count on an agreeable and stimulating working environment.

Fost Plus invests in the personal development of its employees and offers many training opportunities. In 2013, employees followed 2,202 hours of training in total. Internal mobility is also encouraged.

In its recruitment policy, Fost Plus focuses on skills rather than on criteria such as age or education. Fost Plus has in recent years hired several employees that are 45 or older.

A cross-functional team of 12 employees ensures the implementation of the values that the company holds dear: collaboration, transparency, quality, flexibility and innovation.

Fost Plus employees are able to develop their career in a friendly and flexible working environment, which respects the balance between private and professional life. The absenteeism rate (1.6%) is well below the national average (3%).

This well-being was also reflected in the Engagement at work study, which was conducted by Hay in 2013. The high scores for ‘proud of working at Fost Plus’ and the ‘feeling of doing work that is both stimulating and interesting’ are remarkable.


A better use of resources for a better planet

In 2012, Fost Plus moved into a building with a very high level of energy efficiency, including triple glazing and environmentally-friendly ventilation, lighting and air conditioning systems.

Energy consumption was significantly reduced by using economical electrical equipment and reducing the number of printers and copiers from 22 to 4.

Water consumption was also significantly reduced using ecological toilets and sinks with motion detectors.


Paper consumption was reduced by 40%. Employees are encouraged to print as little as possible or – when there is no other option – to use both sides of the paper for printing. Meetings are increasingly paperless as participants can now pull up information on the screen in every meeting room. The weight of paper was reduced from 80g to 70g.

Finally, Fost Plus has also implemented an efficient sorting system for its own waste, setting the example for its many visitors.

All of these efforts have resulted in Fost Plus receiving the first star of the ‘Entreprise écodynamique’ label from the Brussels Capital Region.