Plastic Plates, Utensils Banned in France; Will It Make a Difference?

France

Ever go to a concert, street festival or picnic grounds and see all the plastic cups and tableware stacked in the trash bins afterwards that will wind up in landfills? In the name of being environmentally friendly, the French are trying to eliminate that image. France has banned plastic plates, utensils and such in the future, but many question whether the move will make a difference, or even if it is legal.

France is outlawing dishes, cups, utensils, and take-out packaging made out of plastic, which are largely in use now. The ban will take effect in 2020. From then on, any “disposable” utensils, cups and dishes must be made from plant-based, compostable materials, rather than the current petroleum-based, plastic materials. Some products are already produced using biologically sourced materials, such as processed plant starch, bio-plastics, plain old paper or wood (chopsticks!).

Critics of the new law argue that the French ban on plastic plates violates European Union rules. Packaging manufacturers in Europe are arguing that the ban affects the free movement of goods between countries.

“We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law,” noted the secretary general of a Brussels-based European packaging manufacturers organization, Eamonn Bates. He has also indicated that, if the commission fails to take action, they might.

A lot of the plastic dinnerware currently stuffed to the gills in overflowing garbage cans is recyclable. However, people rarely do recycle items; many curbside or office recycling programs do not accept that type of plastic. Some might conscientiously reuse the fork or cup more than once, but they toss it once it breaks. Either way, a lot of plastic utensils and plates wind up at the dump or, still worse, polluting areas.

Trash cans may still wind up overflowing after 2020, but the logic is that the discarded utensils and plates will disintegrate eventually. However, other critics also point out there is no proof that biologically sourced materials are actually environmentally beneficial. In addition, the ban could potentially make the situation worse if consumers think it is okay to leave behind food packages or serving ware that is bio-degradable when they are picnicking and such, not recognize that it could takes years for the items to break down. This could make littering a worse problem than it is in many public places.

Moves against disposable plastic goods have been raised in various jurisdictions on the back of environmental concerns. However, France is reportedly the first country to try and ban plastic utensils and plates.

The French already implemented a ban on plastic bags, which has been in place since July. That is an action that has also been implemented in several countries and many parts of the U.S, such as Los Angeles, New York City, San Jose and all of Hawaii.

Even if the measure does survive challenges from manufacturers and other European countries, it will take years to know whether having plastic plates, cups and utensils banned in France will make a difference. But, nature lovers better start lugging real wine glasses or knives (or paper goods?) for dining on baguettes, cheese and Bordeaux outdoors.

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

Sources:
AP: France to bid adieu to plastic dishes with controversial ban
The Independent: France bans plastic cups, plates and cutlery
Mashable: France is the first country to ban all plastic plates and cups
Fortune: France Bans All Plastic Dishware Starting in 2020
CNN: Can plastic forks and plates be recycled?

Photo courtesy of Kyriaki – Creative Commons license

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