France passes new law banning plastic cups, cutlery and plates

France has recently become the first country in the world to place a ban on the production and use of all plastic cups, cutlery and plates. The law, passed in September 2016 and set to come into effect in 2020, will ensure that all such items in the future are made of biologically-sourced materials and can be composted.

The law is an addition to the country’s Energy Transition for Green Growth Act and was passed to help mitigate the effects of climate change. It also forms part of France’s commitment to become a world leader in environmentally friendly and clean energy solutions.

Initially, plastic tableware items will be required to manufactured with at least 50% of biologically-sourced materials that can be composted at a customer’s home by January 2020. As of January 2025, this figure will rise to at least 60%.

CNN reports that, according to the French Association of Health and Environment (ASEF), a staggering 4.73 billion plastic cups are thrown away each year in France. This equates to 150 cups per second and only 1% of them are recycled.

The ban follows France’s decision in July 2016 to impose a total ban on the distribution and use of lightweight plastic bags in supermarkets across the country. In banning plastic bags France has followed the lead of Bangladesh – the first country in the world to ban plastic bags – who have since been followed by South Africa, Kenya, China, Rwanda, Mexico and some states of the United States of America. Other countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and New York City have decided to tax the purchase of plastic bags which supermarkets and retailers have passed onto consumers.

Worldwide, the global production of plastic has continued to rise for the past fifty years. According to the Worldwide Institute, “an average person living in Western Europe or North America consumes 100 kilograms of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging.” Yet, millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and the world’s oceans each year and recovery and re-use or recycling methods are insufficient to cope with this growing production.

If the Paris climate change agreement is to be met multiple mitigation and adaptation measures will be required at different stages including at the individual, city and country levels. The social benefits associated with the use of plastics must be weighed against the rising environmental concerns they present. Governments, such as France has shown, will have an important role in regulating the production and supply of plastic and introducing appropriate recycling measures.