France charts course for zero-waste society
There is a French revolution nouveau taking place—a revolt against single-use plastics (SUPs). In case you haven’t heard, the French government wants to eliminate all disposable plastic packaging by 2040.
You may have read about France’s decision to end the use of straws, glasses, cutlery, plates, drink stirrers, take-out cups and lids as well as food boxes made of EPS that will take effect in January. France wants to take that a step further, by going from a “disposable” society to a “reusable” one in the country’s drive for Zero Waste 2040 by banning all plastic packaging.
All products that were formerly “disposable” must be “reusable.” That means that even fast food restaurants must provide cutlery, plates, cups and lids that can be washed/sterilized and reused, which pretty much ends the take-out business many of these restaurants currently provide. The energy and water used to ensure the sanitary conditions of these utensils and plates will be enormous. But France has plenty of energy from its nuclear power plants, so energy—and, obviously, potable water—is not a problem.
According to a report by Axel Barrett in Bioplastics News, the bill that will ban all plastic packaging also prohibits the “free distribution of plastic bottles in public and business places. All will have to be equipped with water fountains.” Plans call for the deployment of “bulk devices by 2021, forcing sellers to accept containers brought by the consumer.” Manufacturers who use any type of plastic overwrap will run the risk of a “financial penalty.”
An article in the online media publication Euractiv noted that the “timetable for getting rid of disposable plastics adopted by the majority of [Members of Parliament] has caused an outcry, given that it seems disconnected from what the European Parliament recently declared to be an ‘environmental emergency.’” Euractiv noted that last March, the EU Parliament adopted a “less extensive ban of plates, cutlery, cotton buds and straws” scheduled for 2021.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of France complained: “We cannot wait until 2040 to ban disposable bags, small bottles or plastics in public and at events,” said Euractiv, noting that WWF France “is asking the government to take concrete and immediate action.”
I suppose the French aren’t as concerned about food safety as they are about getting rid of plastic. In many cases, a plastic overwrap is used to protect the product from tampering by some nefarious persons with the intent to do harm to the general public. It also can add to the shelf-life of a product by serving as an added barrier from oxygen that can result in spoilage. That also goes for barrier packaging that employs layers of plastic—forget that! Banned! Food waste will soon be a big problem in France.
And if you think that “bioplastics” and “compostable” packaging products are exempt, think again. As Barrett reported, the French parliament also adopted a new amendment that says if the “packaging is not ‘home compostable’ it cannot be labeled ‘compostable.’” As Barrett noted in his editorial, “This will force bioplastics companies to aim for home compostability instead of just industrial compostability.”
However, we must remind Barrett that “bioplastic” isn’t necessarily “compostable.” Not all compostable materials—plastics and paperboard—can actually be composted in a commercial/industrial composting facility, much less a backyard composting bin. How many Parisians, for example, have a composting bin? Will the French parliament mandate that all households have a composting bin that can actually compost plastics and paperboard? Will the urban French have to install under-the-sink composting bins?
Backyard composting is work! The environment must be kept at a temperature that is conducive to creating compost. The layers of dirt and food waste must be turned every few days. Even large industrial composting facilities have found that compostable or biodegradable plastics and some heavier paperboard containers will not break down enough in six months for the compost to be sold to consumers.
Let’s face it, “biodegradable” and “compostable” are terms used by companies to “greenwash” their products. Barrett believes that this new mandate by the French parliament “may enable a true bioplastics packaging revolution.”
Or maybe not.
The French Parliament recently had an enlightening experience. The alternative for take-out packaging—food containers and cups—is paper or paperboard. However, the plastics lobby educated Members of Parliament on the fact that paper and paperboard cups and take-out food containers are not “waterproof” without a protective layer of—wait for it—plastic! That makes these paper and paperboard items non-recyclable, non-biodegradable and non-compostable!
Plastic cups and lids, plates and take-out containers are recyclable. “Many stakeholders of the plastic industry were afraid that the paper and cardboard industry would benefit from the plastic bashing in the sense that it would be perceived as a sustainable alternative,” Barrett wrote in his editorial. “The plastic lobby was more efficient than the cardboard and paper lobby. The end of paper and cardboard cups in Europe is coming.”