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New French law legislates that all plastic cups, plates and cutlery must be biodegradable

All plastic cups, cutlery and plates will need to be designed to be compostable in France, according to a new law which comes into effect in 2020. The recently passed legislation has already ignited some debate in terms of what it means within the EU context. At the very least it represents a significant piece of policy in the broader conversation around plastics, the need for more consistency and the growth of an effective after-use economy. 

The law is part of France’s Energy Transition for Green Growth, a plan designed as part of the country’s strategy to tackle climate change. Legislation introduced will mean that all plastic cups, cutlery and plates sold will need to be compostable. It could have a significant impact in a country, where nearly five billion plastic cups are sold annually (less than 2% are recycled).

igure 2 : Les externalités liées à la production de plastique
New Plastics Economy report

95% of plastics material value is currently lost after just one use, according to the recent New Plastics Economy report. The report, which focused on plastic packaging, found that despite 40 years of effort, only 14% was collected for recycling at all, and 32% leaks directly into the environment and natural systems, where it can remain for hundreds of years.

Photo credit: kjd via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: kjd via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

In the plastics sector, both in terms of business and policy, there are plenty of examples of individual innovations and actions designed to tackle the challenges relating to plastics. This move by the French government has already been questioned by European plastics manufacturers, in particular as a potential challenge to the EU’s free movement of goods.

Moreover, while bio-based alternatives are viewed as preferential to the current fossil fuel sourced materials, the correct conditions are required for effective composting. The whole system perspective still needs to be taken into account, from effective production through to usage and re-utilisation. It’ll be interesting to see how the picture continues to develop, and whether, when implemented, the impacts that this legislation has from both an economic and environmental perspective.

In May 2016, the New Plastics Economy initiative was launched, bringing together corporations, NGOs, governments and education institutions to re-think the design of the plastics system.

Source: France bans plastic cups, plates and cutlery

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Seb Egerton-Read

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb writes daily content for Circulate across the full spectrum of the website's topics. Previously he has spent five years as a freelance writer for a number of websites and blogs. You can e-mail Seb at seb[at]

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