The French government has set a goal of eliminating all single-use plastics by 2040. Phase one has begun.
I was recently in Paris and was shocked at how little single-use plastic I saw, especially compared to how much of it I see in New York City. Here we kvetch about the impossibility of giving up such convenience, but in France? Shoppers look great with their net bags, people take coffee breaks in cafes, and nobody is panicked about dying of dehydration if they can't have a plastic water bottle constantly at hand.
As it turns out, on January 1, the first part of an ambitious plan to phase out single use plastic had begun – which includes the ban of three single-use plastic products: plates, cups, and cotton buds. And from what I saw, the Parisian public has already gone way beyond that.You'd think it would be simple. We are drowning in plastic, a forever material that does not break down in nature and is causing all kinds of mayhem in the natural world. At most 9 percent of plastic produced globally is recycled, yet global plastic production continues to skyrocket. "The last 15 years saw more plastic produced than in all previous human history, and plastic production is expected to triple again by 2050," notes France24.
But it's not simple because plastic is made from petroleum – and as petrochemical companies are facing the possibility of reduced demand for fuel, they are ramping up plastic production. Few industries have as much power as the fossil fuel one does, and thus, fighting plastic is no easy task. In the United States, there are actual bans against plastic bans. It is truly a travesty.
Which is why big moves to ban plastic are big news – and I dare say, "radical." It's not easy bucking big oil and the plastic industry, nor is it easy to convince consumers to give up the convenience of disposables.
The French government’s goal is to phase out all single-use plastics by 2040, in accordance with European Union directives. But the EU target, while admirable, is also vague and asks countries only to "significantly reduce" their consumption. France's ambitious plan seems like a great example of how to do it. Here is the schedule, according to the new decree:
- As mentioned above, in 2020 single-use plastic plates, cups, and cotton buds are banned.
- In 2021, disposable cutlery, plastic takeout cup lids, confetti, drink stirrers, foam containers, plastic straws, and produce packaging containers will be banned. And there will be penalties for excessive plastic packaging. There will also be the deployment of bulk distribution set-ups for which vendors will have to allow customers to use their own containers.
- In 2022, plastic teabags and fast-food toys will be verboten – as will disposable dishes at restaurants. Water fountains will be mandatory in public buildings. Companies will no longer be allowed to give out free water bottles.
Shops will have six months to use up any stock they have. And there is a temporary exemption for compostable products containing at least 50 percent organic materials, and also for cutlery used in health and corrections facilities, as well as on trains and airplanes. But, those exemptions will expire in July 2021.
But honestly, from what I saw, the general public is already way ahead of the deadlines – and there is a lot to be learned. See how they do it here: 6 zero-waste lessons from Paris.