France becomes the first country to ban plastic plates and cutlery

PARIS — France has become the first country in the world to ban plastic plates, cups and utensils, passing a law that will go into effect in 2020. Exceptions will be allowed for items made of compostable, biosourced materials.

The new law is a part of the country’s Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, the same legislation that also outlawed plastic bags in grocery stores and markets beginning in July. Although plastic bags are forbidden in other countries — including in some U.S. states — no country seems to have embraced a plastic ban as sweeping as France’s will be.

The general idea behind the law — following the landmark conference held in Paris last fall on curbing global warming — is to promote a “circular economy” of waste disposal, “from product design to recycling,” French lawmakers say.

With 4.73 billion plastic goblets discarded in France in 2015 alone, and roughly17 billion plastic bags used annually in supermarkets around the country, the new laws will hopefully put an end to France’s dependence on disposable plastic wares.

According to the new law, the distribution of disposable plastic bags at supermarket check-outs has been banned as of July, and plastic bags will be prohibited in fruit and vegetable departments from 1 January 2017.

French President François Hollande described the ban as an attempt to “make France … an exemplary nation in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying its energy model and increasing the deployment of renewable energy sources.”

But not everyone is happy. The French environment minister, Ségolène Royal, previously said it was an anti-social concept, since plastic utensils are generally used by low-income families. Eamonn Bates, secretary-general of Pack2Go Europe, which represents European packaging manufacturers, also belongs to this group.

“We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law. If they don’t, we will,” he said.