French government programme to ban single-use plastic | Knowledge Hub | Circle Economy Foundation

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French government programme to ban single-use plastic

France has become the first country in the world to fully ban single-use plastic items, with a sweeping measure on disposable cutlery, tableware and plastic bags. While other countries have some measures in place, none are as extensive as France’s new law, which was fully enacted in 2020. Lawmakers aim to instil values of the circular economy in all facets of the value chain—from product design, to use, to recycling. In doing so, President François Hollande hopes to make France ‘an exemplary nation in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying its energy model and increasing the deployment of renewable energy sources.’


The global tradition of ‘take-make-waste’ is resulting in excessive—and unnecessary—volumes of waste, and emissions rising in tandem. The French people are becoming increasingly sensitive to waste of food or non-food products, but there is more to be done: in the past, businesses and retailers have been authorised to destroy unsold food items, and disposable, single-use items have abounded in restaurants, groceries and retailers alike.


 France’s politicians have voted on—and passed—an ‘anti-waste law for a circular economy’, following consultation with local authorities, companies and NGOs. It is composed of fifty measures, which create new requirements for the polluter pays principles, new product families in the circular economy, new prohibitions on single-use plastic items, and new measures to more easily sanction environmental offences. Through these measures, the government hopes to influence how companies produce and how citizens consume. Additional emphasis will also be placed on the recycling, repair and reuse of products, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. 


Under the law, the measurable impacts will be the following: the complete discontinuation of single-use plastics and plastic bags by 2020, zero disposable tableware in fast-food restaurants, bans on claims regarding ‘biodegradable’ single-use items, promotion of buying products in bulk to reduce packaging, installing plastic microfibre filters on all new washing machines and bans on plastic packaging for produce. The law will also contain segments on informing and shaping consumer behaviour, through environmental labelling and improved ease of recycling. In addition, the destruction of unsold food items will be made illegal, as will planned obsolescence in business. While tangible outcomes are yet to be seen, it is expected that the law will greatly reduce France’s waste generation and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as shift citizens’ perspectives on consumption.

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