How would you react to a law that prevented your use of plastic dishware? You’d lose this convenience at fast food restaurants. Family picnics would certainly be different. Vending machines would no longer dispense plastic cups. If you plan on traveling to France, you’ll need to make some adjustments.
As of September 1, 2016, France has bid plastic “au revoir.” A ruling by the French government requires all disposable dishware to be biologically sourced. The law includes cutlery, plates, goblets, and cups.
Manufacturers have until 2020 to comply. Plastic tableware must consist of 50 percent organic material. The law applies to single-use disposables. By 2025, 60 percent of plastic disposables will need to be biologically sourced. They must also be biodegradable in a home compost unit. The ruling aims to reduce plastic waste and pollution.
French leaders are making concerted efforts to protect our environment. In December 2015, France hosted the Climate Change Conference. The resulting Paris Agreement secured pledges by 195 countries to limit the effects of global warming. The pact calls for responsible management of waste disposal, from product design to recycling.
France has also implemented a new bill, the “Energy Transition for Green Growth Act.” Coinciding with this directive, the government banned single-use plastic bags this past July. Both laws address the problem of plastic waste.
Annually, an estimated 17 billion plastic bags are used in France. Most of them transport fruits, vegetables, and groceries from supermarkets. Roughly 8 million tons of the plastic are dumped into the ocean.
Did you know it takes 400 years for a plastic bag to degrade? The material never completely decomposes. Rather, it breaks down into smaller pieces.
Meanwhile, the discarded plastic both floats on the ocean surface and sinks into the sea. Consequently, 700 marine species are on the brink of extinction through entanglement, ingestion, and toxic exposure. Roughly 40 percent of the waste ends up in French landfills. Additionally, millions of barrels of oil are used annually to produce plastic bags and utensils. Fossil fuels are finite and polluting.
Although many countries either ban or tax plastic bags, France is the first to prohibit plastic dishware. Public reaction to the new regulation is mixed. Conservation organizations applaud the ruling, although they had pushed for an effective date of 2017.
European packaging manufacturers fear the ban will be adopted by other countries, with a negative impact on business. Pack2Go Europe, a trade association, believes the French regulation violates European Union laws on the free movement of merchandise. Eamonn Bates, secretary general for the trade association, wants the European Commission to take legal action against France.
Two glitches exist in the new regulation. Plant-based disposables tend to be more expensive than petroleum-based products. France’s environment minister considers the law an added financial burden on lower-income families.
The new law stipulates that disposables must be biodegradable in a home compost unit. Mr. Bates states that bio-sourced plastics don’t meet this requirement. Many manufacturers of plant-based goods claim their products will only degrade in commercial facilities. Such buildings operate their composters at higher temperatures than home units. Mr. Bates also projects that consumers will be littering the countryside with the new packaging, thinking it will decompose.
However, there are alternatives to bio-plastics, such as plant starch and paper. These materials are produced by World Centric and Fabri-Kal, based in the United States. Plastic residues will destroy our Earth unless we find viable options. France is certainly on the right track, don’t you think?