On 10 February 2020, the French law on fighting waste and the circular economy was enacted after months of discussions between the National Assembly and the Senate. The law contributes to the framework set out by the 2004 French Environmental Charter, and transposes provisions of several related EU regulations. Read in the following a guest commentary by Marie Plancke, Delegate General at Club Bioplastiques our French partner association.

Club Bioplastiques

Following the European Single-use Plastic Directive, France, in early February, has published a new Circular Economy Law. Aiming to improve reuse and recycling, and to reduce plastic consumption, the law will mean many changes for the different industries. Extended Producer Responsibility is widely promoted as well as requirements on consumer information to help sorting packaging.

As far as the bioplastics industry is concerned, the measures, which have been selected, totally underestimate bioplastics’ contribution to a new circular economy.

Towards an end of single-use plastic packaging in 2040?
The French Secretary of State Brune Poirson really dedicated herself to support the end of single-use plastic packaging by 2040. To achieve this goal, the law announces several bans on single-use plastic products, whether they are biobased and/or compostable or not. Following the European Directive, the French law banned single-use plastic cutlery, straws, plates, and cup lids. However, it also goes further by banning single-use plastic cups and glasses, although the Directive mentions them only on the restriction list. Existing ban exemptions in favour of biobased and home compostable items listed above have been cancelled.

The ban also applies to the fast-food sector. By 2023, stores will no longer be allowed to sell meals in single-use plastic containers for in store consumption, but only for take away.

Both, industries and NGOs, welcome a necessary fight against plastic pollution. However, acknowledging our modern consumption mode, we should ask ourselves about the consequences of these measures. Does a ban mean a change of behaviour in the way of consuming? What happens if individuals and businesses start using “reusable” items the same way they use “single use” products? NGOs already warn the government of those effects, which could be so damaging to the environment. Thus, we strongly expect the Ministry to address these issues with application decrees.
In addition, it is of great significance that bioplastics are no longer allowed for mailing film. Accordingly, starting on 1 January 2022, press publications as well as advertising publications will be shipped without any plastic packaging. Although print media is a sector in crisis, no solutions other than paper packaging are available. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach the technical requirements (waterproofness, etc.).

Consumer information about compostability: an unfortunate measure
Consumer information ranks amongst the law’s key-points, especially concerning the selective sorting of waste. An amendment has been adopted to ban the “compostable” claim by 2022, if it does not refer to “home compostable”. A decree will define this measure. The French bioplastics association is fully committed to defend the industrial composting claim for packaging. Industrial composting facilities are still in development in a country, which is really late on separate collection of biowaste and composting it. Fortunately, in compliance with the Waste Directive, the new law entails that all waste producers will be obligated to sort out and recover biowaste by 31 December 2023.

The Law acknowledges Compostable bags contribution to a circular Economy
The French environment agency Ademe acknowledges that, compostable bags help to improve biowaste collection and recovery. Although fruits and vegetables plastic bags which are not both, biobased and compostable, were already banned (Energy Transition Law). They still can be found on every small French market. From now on, in accordance with the French Circular Economy Law, the Environment Ministry’s bodies will supervise the compliance of the new regulations. In case of non-compliance, fines from EUR 3.000 to 15.000 can be imposed. We obviously will remain alert on the further application of the law.