Since July 2016, France has banned the sale, distribution, and use of single-use plastic bags in all stores. According to the French administration of Health and Services, certain wrapping materials are still available under certain conditions: if the wrapped goods are meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables, and if the wrapping material is not plastic but made of natural components or strictly vegetable-based. All bags should have a mention indicating its reusable character, and warning customers against the toxicity of such waste thrown out in the wilderness – like the number of years, or decades, until complete deterioration.
Stiffness from the French government reflects an increase of ecological concerns, and a worry to turn green at a faster rate. However, there are more improvements; since January 1, the measure will not only concern checkout counters but also store sections. Moreover, materials that cannot be processed into compost, although degradable, will be progressively put aside. According to the Public Health Services website, bags will be composed of 30% of organic components in 2017, with the goal of reaching 50% in 2020, and 60% in 2025.
It is not France’s first offensive in the war against plastic pollution: ten years ago, the European Union had invited numerous European countries to lower their consumption by making consumers pay up to 10 cents per bag. In France, this implementation had diminished distribution from 12 billion to 700 million bags over a ten-year period.
Still, in 2015, according to Le Figaro. fr, nearly 17 billion plastic bags were distributed: 5 billion at checkout counters of local shops and small convenience stores, and 12 billion in store sections of all businesses. Before this slow decrease in production and distribution, France thought to put a drastic end to the circulation of plastic bags – and extend the measure to other plastic products, like plates and cutlery, in 2020.
France is, however, still far behind its fellow Europeans, like Norway and Sweden, where consumption is eight times less. The law may have been implemented earlier; pending in the government’s drawers since 2004, it was initially sought to be implemented in 2010. Alas, at the end of 2009, the decree for the publication of this law was still not drafted, because of violation of European directives on packaging. Another reason is that the production of environmental-friendly components, such as craft, takes longer, and is thus more expensive (2 to 4 times) for factories, businesses and consumers alike.
The measure also inscribes itself in a wave of environmental concerns that have spread over Europe during the past ten years. Soaring use of renewable energies, emphasis on waste sorting, and awareness on raising better, eco-friendly ways to produce and consume have been topical. Mid-January this year, Paris vehicles will get color-coded “pollution stickers,” with green for the cleanest cars to gray for the most pollutant. Inhabitants with the “dirtiest” cars will have to leave them at home when pollution peaks will occur, at a risk of getting fined.
In the United States, an average of 100 billion plastic bags is distributed to consumers every year – almost one bag per person each day.
However, since 2014, cities on the West Coast and the state of California have been reducing their distribution and came to ban plastic bags in big retailers and anti-bag legislation has spread to 132 cities across the country. San Francisco, for instance, aims to implement a “zero waste” policy by 2020. The state of Colorado has implemented fees on plastic and paper bags, ranging from 10 to 20 cents.
Still, in many states, consumers can have as many plastic bags as they want during checkout; which creates significant problems for certain metropoles, like New-York City. Indeed, the particular beauty of its urban landscape deteriorates while plastic bags do not. They fly away, getting stuck in city trees and sweeping across sidewalks – a pollution for the eye.
But against all odds, the Big Apple is also turning green. After years of struggles, debates, and prohibitions from the State Capitol’s bill against taxes, fees or local charges on merchandise bags, the 5 cents fee on plastic bags will be implemented in February. The decision was taken after a final vote of 28 to 20 by the City Council, last June.
Article by Alice Ferré, CAS’19