In many EU Member States the political process that led to the Single-use Plastics Directive has initiated dynamic debates around bioplastics. This is also the case in France, where the national parliament is currently discussing a draft law on anti-waste and circular economy. Amongst other possible instruments, the draft also includes restrictions against plastic bags.

However, the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) recently made an interesting contribution to the parliamentary process by publishing a study on the environmental impact of fruit and vegetable bags. In a life cycle analysis, the study demonstrates the positive environmental performance of bio-based, biodegradable/compostable plastic bags. The study also confirms the bags’ ability to compost domestically in accordance with the established good practices, e.g. the use of a backyard composter, a certain temperature and humidity etc. Based on its findings, ADEME suggested an exemption for bioplastics bags in case a ban on plastic bags would come into effect. The agency also explicitly recommended the reuse of these compostable vegetable/fruit bags as biobin liners in combination with a vented kitchen caddy in order to improve the separate collection of bio-waste.

In a recent statement, the Club Bioplastiques, the business association of the French bioplastic industry, predominantly welcomed ADEME’s position on bioplastic bags. However, it questioned the recommendation of a levy on those bags announced by the agency. A levy would mean additional costs of several hundred million Euros for the French consumer. Such costs would discourage them from buying loose vegetables and fruits and lead to a stronger demand for pre-packaged goods. As a consequence, it would hamper economic development in the bioplastics industry.

ADEME’s life cycle analysis compares bio-based single-use bags made of paper and bio-based single-use bags made of plastic that are domestically compostable. The results show an advantage of the bioplastic bags over the bags made of paper. With regards to 3 out of 6 indicators, which are linked to air and water pollution, the bio-based and biodegradable/compostable plastic bags show a better performance than its paper counterpart. In the case of the other 3 indicators, namely climate change, acidification, and depletion of fossil ressources, the compostable plastic bags show a very similar environmental performance as the paper bags. The French Club Bioplastiques supports ADEME’s position that the use of compostable plastic bags facilitates the collection of bio-waste. Furthermore, the agency emphasized that these bags would not block the composting process, e.g. the evaporation of moisture from the bio-waste. ADEME also stated that even in the case that the bioplastic bag isn’t reused for bio-waste collection it could be disposed in the residual waste or the recycling bin for plastic without the risk of contaminating the recycling flow. Due to optical sorting technologies, compostable and conventional plastics can be separated.

In light of ADEME’s positive opinion, the French bioplastics industry is once more convinced that its products contribute to a more efficient waste management and thereby help achieving a circular economy. With regards to the on-going parliamentary process, Christophe Doukhi-de Boissoudy, the President of the Club Bioplastiques, called upon all MPs to acknowledge the important role of bioplastics in waste management and help raising awareness on the collection of bio-waste. This would be essential for being able to achieve the obligatory waste management objectives for 2023.