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France: Plastic Packaging for Fruit and Veg Banned

Toni Mallen reports as France announces new policies to phase out plastic packaging.

Photo by Cotton Bro

France started 2022 with a ban on plastic packaging on 30 different types of fruit and vegetables. This will eliminate 1 billion single use units of plastic per year, with aim of banning all plastic food packaging by 2026.

This is a popular move, with 77 countries initiating bans on plastic carrier bags. China, for example, has already banned non-compostable carriers and, along with several European countries, has introduced a fee to customers for robust, reusable bags. These improvements must be welcomed in a time when disused plastic products are rampaging across the globe, causing what the United Nations has dubbed a ‘planetary crisis’.

The Scale of Pollution

The scale of plastic pollution cannot be understated. In 2014, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that 63% of the 258 million tons municipal waste generated in the US was attributed to packaging material, only 35% of which was likely to be recycled.

A study in the 2019 journal, Science Advances, analysed the production and fate of all plastics ever produced. As they discovered, 8.3 billion metric tons have been produced since 1950, of which only 9% has been recycled. As National Geographic states, “…if present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.”

Once plastics are deposited into the ground, more problems will occur: as plastics degrade, they will absorb PCBs and pesticides such as DDT, both of which can be found in landfills and are highly toxic should they find their way into the waterways and food chain. Another reason to reduce the production of this ubiquitous material is that all plastics used in food packaging are derived from fossil fuels. With this in mind, it might be difficult to imagine why plastic packaging was ever considered a sensible option.

Origins of the Problem

While its consequences are clear today, at the time of creation, plastic was, and indeed, in many circumstances still is, a magnificent and essential invention. Its use extends the shelf life of vacuum-packed meat, for example, by ten times. This is especially significant when we consider that the developed world wastes almost as much food (222 million tons) as sub-Saharan countries produce (230 million tons).

While France may be banning use of plastics for fruit and vegetables, we must consider the alternatives for all food packaging. Some people argue that a plastic carrier has a smaller carbon footprint when compared to either paper bags, which would require reusing three times to account for the carbon used in production and transportation, or cotton bags, which would need to be reused 131 times to match the efficiency of plastic.

In 1959, Sten Gustaf Thulin designed the carrier bag we know and loath today. His reasoning was that it would help to reduce the number of trees being felled to make paper bags; he was trying to save the planet, and surely, if we had used those precious bags in the way that he intended us to, he may well have achieved a cleaner future for us all. Thulin wanted us to reuse these bags, repeatedly; in fact, he always kept one in his pocket, ready for use. The modern world, however, has become very lazy, instead relying on using new bags every shopping trip.

A Changing Tide

With plastics seeming so indispensable in the modern day, it could appear an impossible task to rein-in production and usage. However, governments are starting to employ taxes, such as the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT), applied to all plastics containing less than 30% recycled materials in the UK from April 2022. In the business world, furthermore, companies who are slow to react to environmental, social, or governance pressures will have their shareholders revolting.

In the long-run, humanity will need to reassess our relationship with our long-lasting products, guided by organisations and initiatives such as Common Seas. This social enterprise offers educational programmes to help steer the next generation towards new strategies to deal with the challenges we find today, having developed the ‘Plastic Drawdown’ assessment tools for governments to map all uses of plastics within their country, offering both advice on how one might cut waste and strategies for effective action.

Should Thulin’s vision, modern technology, eco-conscious initiatives, and common sense prevail, the children of today might be able to avoid the dreadful repercussions of today’s plastic plague.


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