In an effort to curb plastic pollution, the French government is rolling out a ban on plastic packaging for some produce. The ban took effect on January 1, 2022, for 30 fruits and vegetables. However, vendors can use disposable plastic packaging for another six months to use up existing supplies.
Other types of plastic packaging are also banned, including plastic sleeves for newspapers and advertising. In addition, tea sachets must be biodegradable, plastic produce stickers must be compostable, fast food restaurants cannot offer free plastic toys with menu items, and locales open to the public must have drinking fountains to curb the use of plastic water bottles.
Similarly, Spain is introducing a plastic packaging ban for produce, starting in 2023. Officials are encouraging shoppers to bring their own containers.
French President Emmanuel Macron has referred to the plastic produce packaging ban as “a real revolution.” He sees it as an opportunity for France to lead the way in reducing plastic waste. Although these bans will not have a direct impact on the U.S., they could help set the stage for future legislation.
What produce is included in the plastic packaging ban?
The new French law applies to oranges, pears, apples, clementines, pineapple, mango, passionfruit, plums, kiwis, carrots, bananas, cucumbers, and round tomatoes. However, it doesn’t apply to some of the most fragile types of produce, including mushrooms, aromatic herbs, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, and many types of berries. These items are exempt until January 2025. Also, packs over 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) are exempt.
What is the purpose of phasing out plastics in packaging?
According to the French government, this ban will prevent about 1 million pieces of plastic waste annually. In France, 45% of plastic use is for packaging. Consumers commonly discard packaging quickly; it provides only fleeting value – if any – to consumers. Numerous environmental issues plague plastic, such as its limited recyclability and toxicity as well as the use of fossil fuels in production.
This legislation aims to reduce waste at the source and encourage a circular economy. Ideally, such bans will promote innovation and new low-waste ways to package produce. When considering the waste management hierarchy, prevention and reduction are the most effective. Therefore, the most effective solutions will involve preventing waste before it occurs.
Are citizens responding positively to the plastic ban?
According to French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, the public response to the new ban has been mixed, partially due to the pandemic. “It’s a bit schizophrenic because, on the one hand, the French are very much aware of the need to reduce plastic use. There is broad support for not using so much plastic. At the same time, once you buy vegetables yourself, you realize that nothing has been done to find new ways of wrapping that stop the produce from decomposing too fast,” she said.
This is concerning because less plastic packaging waste does not necessarily help the environment if the end result is more food waste. However, government policies can also inspire finding new solutions and changes in consumer behavior, such as bringing reusable produce bags.
“The other thing is that this comes right in the time of COVID,” continues Moutet. “And quite frankly, people were just happy not to have others pawing their vegetables, trying them and smelling them and buying or not buying them. People do not know how exactly to take it. There are pluses and minuses on this.”
How will the plastic packaging ban impact shoppers?
While plastic packaging comes at a steep environmental and social cost, some shoppers find it convenient — particularly for ready-to-eat produce. One of the likely plastic alternatives is cardboard packaging, which breaks down in the environment far more quickly than plastic and is easier to recycle. But what does this mean for consumers who buy prepared produce, such as washed salad greens?
Some packaging manufacturers criticize that the ban includes recycled plastic. Allowing the use of 100% recycled plastic packaging could provide a more eco-friendly option for businesses that sell ready-to-eat produce such as washed greens and sliced watermelon.
Such a loophole could appease the business owners in Spain who express concern that the ban will impact the healthy eating habits of consumers. “We need to consider both the purchasing and eating habits of Spaniards and the benefits for food waste of long-lasting packed products,” Aurelio del Pino, president of the Spanish Association of Supermarkets (ACES), told Euronews.
On the other hand, a strong stance against single-use plastic is likely the best way to get traction on eliminating the hard-to-recycle plastic packaging plaguing the planet. “We need to reduce, as much as we can, the use of disposable plastics, and opt firmly for reusable packaging,” says Julio Barea, the Head of the Spanish Greenpeace Waste campaign.
Barea questions the validity of the “selling point of convenience” offered by packaged food for immediate consumption. “This is what creates the problem. And they are going to try to sell us more and more products in these types of containers,” Barea says. “That’s why we need an ambitious law that will prevent any twists and turns from manufacturers to continue selling disposable containers.”