Source translated from Germany Trade & Invest (13 Jan 2016)
As part of the recently adopted law on energy transition and green growth, the French government will be implementing new environmental policies, including a ban on single-use plastic bags. The initial plan was to ban single-use checkout bags from French supermarkets by 1 January 2016. Yet, due to a delay in the publication of the respective regulation, the deadline has been pushed back to 1 April 2016. In 2017, fruit and vegetable bags will follow.
According to the French Environment Ministry, 17 billion plastic bags are used in France every year, 6,5 billion of which are single-use plastic bags. Almost all of them are made from non-recyclable materials, which is why the French government has set out to spur the transition to reusable or biodegradable bags. In a first step, all single-use carrier bags (definition below *1) will be banned from French supermarket checkouts by 1 April 2016 and shall be replaced by more robust and reusable plastic bags that are subject to a charge.
While some retailers have already implemented corresponding measures in 2015, the new regulation proves more difficult for corner shops and convenience stores where smaller quantities are being sold. Alternative bags made from paper or biodegradable materials can be two to three times more expensive than conventional fossil-based plastic bags. In higher-priced segments, however, where more robust and customisable bags are being used for advertising purposes, the costs seem to be less of a hurdle. Many pharmacies, for instance, are already using paper or bioplastic bags.
Bioplastics manufacturers waiting in the wings
In a second step, all fruit and vegetable bags will be banned from French supermarkets at the beginning of 2017. Biodegradable bags made from paper or bioplastics shall be used instead. With this legislation, France pre-empts EU legislation, which requires a charge for plastic bags by 2018 the latest in order to restrict the use of single-use plastic bags to 40 bags per person per year by 2025. In 2010, French citizens used 79 plastic bags per person, compared to the EU-average of 175 bags per citizen.
The new legislation is expected to also have a profound effect on the production of plastic bags and the respective industries. While 80 percent of all plastic bags are currently being imported from Asia (in case of fruit and vegetable bags, the share is even higher with 90 percent), bioplastis bags will almost entirely be produced locally or within Europe. Manufacturers like Biotec (Sphère), Roquette, or Limagrain are only waiting for more details on the regulation for fruit and vegetable bags for 2017. Industry experts see a potential of 4.000 new jobs in the sector of bioplastics production, especially in view of the planned implementation of a separate collection of all plastic packaging materials in the “yellow bin” by 2022. On the other side, local manufacturers of customised conventional plastic bags, half of which are still being produced in France, are less enthusiastic. The mostly small-size companies would have to adapt their production and see 3.000 of their jobs at risk.
Next target: disposable tableware
From 2020 on, disposable tableware, including cups, mugs, and plates (except cutlery) will have to be replaced by reusable products. Around 15 French manufacturers, which currently supply around 80 percent of the demand in France, will have to re-think alternative materials and product design and adapt there production accordingly. The demand for compostable and biobased materials, however, seems to raise more questions than in the case of plastic bags. Which is why manufacturers are currently waiting until more specific requirements and clear regulations on this matter have been agreed upon.
* The single-use carrier bags affected by the ban by April 2016 have a thickness of less than 50 microns and a capacity of 25 litres max. For the regulation to come into effect, a statement of the European Parliament was necessary to make sure it does not effect the free movement of goods within the EU, which is said to have caused the delay.