In a bid to become a world leader in sustainability, France has introduced a law that sees the end of disposable plastic cups, plates, and cutlery across the country.
According to the new measure, which was passed on 30 August, all single-use disposable dishes will have to be made from at least 50% biologically sourced, compostable materials by 2020. The law will apply to those who manufacture and provide such disposables to consumers.
This decree was passed in addition to France’s extensive Energy Transition for Green Growth act, a bill with six wide-ranging objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The act includes not just goals for gradual switching over from fossil fuels to renewable energies, but also a target to halve the amount of France’s landfill waste by 2025.
As part of the act, disposable plastic bags have been banned from supermarkets and stricter rules apply to electronic waste disposal.
Environmentalist groups have welcomed the new measure on disposable dishes, because it has the obvious potential to cut back on landfill waste and environmental pollution - but the ban has met with severe criticism in other quarters.
According to the Associated Press (AP), Pack2Go Europe, the industry organisation that represents packaging manufacturers, has announced they will fight the bill on the basis that it contradicts European Union laws on protection of manufacturers.
"We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law," Pack2Go spokesperson Eamonn Bates told AP. "If they don't, we will."
The industry body claims that analysis of the life cycle of bio-based disposable dishware doesn’t prove it’s actually more environmentally friendly, because it can require more resources to produce than bog-standard fossil fuel based plastics.
However, France’s new law can also serve as a reminder that single-use items are often the least environmentally friendly option regardless of their composition. For consumers in France this might be the best time to finally start carrying a reusable coffee cup and water bottle, and invest in an old-fashioned picnic basket complete with quaint reusable crockery.