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France Waves 'Au Revoir' to Plastic Tableware

If it doesn't come from biological sources, the country's new motto is "just say non"

Zut alors! Up to 36 tons of plastic debris is removed from the Seine each year. (EricFerguson via iStock)
smithsonian.com

You’re sitting at a cafe in Paris, waiting for your food. Sunlight and shadow dapples your table as you view the street scene that surrounds you. Your waiter approaches, carrying a mouthwatering croissant...on a plastic plate with plastic utensils. Excusez-moi? If the thought of using plastic tableware doesn’t seem particularly apropos for a country known for its culinary craft, you’re not alone—France is about to ban plastic cutlery, plates and cups, Samuel Petrequin reports for the Associated Press.

But the ban is not about preserving the country’s notorious foodie culture, it’s all about the environment. Petrequin reports that the measure went into effect last month and will eliminate disposable dishes from non-biologically sourced, compostable materials by the year 2020.

Given the environmental impact of plastic cutlery and plates—one 2014 study found that between 22 and 36 tons of floating plastic debris, including cutlery, is removed in a single year from the Seine alone, and 25 percent of the volume of trash in dumps is plastic—you’d think the ban would be occasion for a toast in a glass or bio-plastic champagne flute. But not everyone is excited about losing plastics in France. 

Take the plastics industry: the ban has raised industry hackles and questions about whether it goes against European Union laws that allow goods to freely move throughout the EU, Amanda McCormack reports for Plastics News Europe,

“The European Union needs to tackle this abuse of EU law by France,” Eamonn Bates, who represents Pack2Go Europe, a European plastics trade association, tells McCormack. Bates tells Petrequin that the association plans to bring legal action against France for the ban, which he claims will mislead consumers into littering with bio-sourced cutlery with the idea these plastics will readily degrade.

The ban is the first nation-wide bar on plastic tableware, and advocates say it’s not a moment to soon. The act is an outgrowth of the country’s Energy Transition for the Green Growth plan, a set of environmental measures designed to curb climate change. It’s part of a suite of actions, including banning disposable plastic bags, changing the way the French sort their trash and tackling food waste throughout the country.

Now that France is turning to eco-based disposable goods, you’d think the environmental impact of that café croissant would be mitigated. But not so fast: It turns out that using disposable goods of any kind wastes more food. Lab studies show that the more disposable the plate, the more food people feel they can waste, and food waste has a direct impact on the environment and climate. Maybe the best thing to do is abandon  throwaway plates, cutlery and cups altogether—it could make that leisurely Parisian meal as guilt-free as it is delicious.

(h/t: Travel & Leisure)

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