The Italian government could be forced to change its plans for a tax on plastic packaging after coming under pressure from producers.
The measure, which is intended to combat plastic pollution while raising more than €1bn (£860m) in revenues, has divided the fragile coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Democratic party (PD).
The tax, included in the draft budget for 2020, would require companies to pay a €1 levy on each kilogram of plastic produced, including bottles, polyethylene bags and trays, detergent containers, bubble wrap, packaging for household appliances and product labels. The measure would also provide incentives to firms that produce biodegradable materials.
As the budget begins its passage through parliament, however, the proposal has irked one of Italy’s most dynamic industries. It also faces opposition from Italia Viva, the centrist party recently established by the former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who described the tax as “a blow to the middle-class”. Renzi left the PD to form Italia Viva, but the party is still part of the ruling coalition.
Confindustria, the confederation of Italian industry, argues that the levy risks harming a sector that brings in a turnover of around €40bn a year and employs 150,000 people.
“The measure penalises products, not behaviour, and only represents a way to recover resources, while placing huge costs on consumers, workers and businesses,” Confindustria said in a statement, adding that companies already contributed €450m a year toward the collection and recycling of plastic packaging.
Paolo Lamberti, the president of Federchimica, the association that represents the chemicals industry, said the tax did not consider “the disastrous impact on all firms” while several consumer organisations argue it would add about 10% to product prices.
Roberto Gualtieri, the finance minister, moved to appease the critics on Sunday, saying the measure could be modified to reduce the impact on the plastics industry.
“But we must reduce the use of single-use plastic,” he said. “We can’t applaud the children who campaign for a better environment and then not take action. A measure against single-use plastic is correct and must be reshaped well.”
Luigi Di Maio, whose M5S party has long prioritised the environment in its campaigning, said the debate over the tax was “surreal”.
“After so many years of talking about the impact that plastic has on our seas, Italy has decided to move quickly toward changing its production system,” he said. “But today the debate is about whether to begin doing that, or not to lose votes. I say that politicians look towards the next elections while statesmen look towards the next generation.”
A report published in October by the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (Ispra) revealed that more than 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste end up in the Mediterranean each year.
The next electoral challenge, especially for the Democratic party, comes in January in Emilia-Romagna, a leftwing stronghold that hosts the biggest concentration of plastics manufacturers. The party’s leader, Nicola Zingaretti, has not commented on the issue but Stefano Bonaccini, the PD’s regional president who will compete for a second mandate against an increasingly popular centre-right coalition, said: “An ecological turnaround is absolutely necessary, but it must not affect businesses and work.”