France leads the charge against single-use plastics

First came a ban on plastic bags, now there's a ban on disposable dishes and cutlery: How France is an impressive leader in the battle against plastic pollution.

France has taken a stance against disposable plastic products in a way that no other nation has been able to do. The country has made two key decisions in recent months that will undoubtedly transform the way French people think about trash and the long-term environmental footprint of their purchases.

First came a ban on all plastic shopping bags.

Rather than taking the soft route of charging a minimal amount (approx. 5 cents) per bag – which is what so many other places have done, but it ultimately fails to hurt the consumer sufficiently to make them change their practices – France has opted to ban plastic bags altogether.

Right now the ban covers all bags “smaller than 10 liters and with a thickness less than 50 microns” – otherwise known as the “common plastic bag.” It includes biodegradable bags and plastic bags with handles, and will extend to the super-thin bags used for fruit and vegetables and to wrap meat by January 1, 2017.

The Local reports: “The law also currently plans to authorize ‘domestically compostable bags made in full or in part from bio-sourced materials,’ which should replace plastic fruit and vegetable packaging in January 2017.”

Now, France has banned disposable plastic dishes and cutlery.

Not stopping at the relatively easy issue of bags, France has tackled something even bigger with its most recent decision to ban all single-use plastic plates, cups, and cutlery. Partyers, picnickers, coffee drinkers, and those eating on the go will need to come up with reusable alternatives.

Manufacturers and retailers have until 2020 to ensure that any disposable products they sell are made of biologically sourced materials and can be composted in a domestic composter. That last point is key, as many bio-based plastics will only break down in municipal composts, where the temperature gets higher than in home composters. (Biodegradable plastics have their fair share of problems, too, as outlined in this TreeHugger article by Melissa Breyer.)

Not surprisingly, the decision has been met with great resistance, particularly from the packaging industry that calls it an infringement on European free trade laws, and even France’s environment minister, Segolène Royal, who described it initially as “anti-social.”

Increasing numbers of people realize what a serious issue plastic pollution is in our world, as evidenced by the rise in popularity of Zero Waste living and the Break Free From Plastic campaign. We must wean ourselves off single-use plastics, no matter how convenient and cheap they are, and France’s official decisions will make it easier, in a way, for French people and visitors to take that leap. The world will be watching with curiosity to see how the transition goes, what sorts of alternatives are developed, and how people respond in general to this return to a more old-fashioned, yet environmentally advanced, way of living.

Way to go, France, for being daring enough to ban single-use plastics and for leading the fight against climate change by example.

Tags: France | Plastic Bags | Plastics | Pollution | Zero Waste


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