A new law banning plastic wrapping for a large number of fruits and vegetables has come into force in France with the New Year, hoping to end with what the government has described as the “aberration” of overwrapped apples, bananas, and carrots. The move is part of a country-wide effort to gradually phase out all single-use plastics by 2040 and establish France as a leader in this field.
Over 35% of fruits and vegetables in France are currently sold in plastic packages, according to government estimations. This is largely similar in all developed nations. The new measure hopes to eliminate over a billion wrappings per year and it will be fully applicable by 2026 — complying with the European Union’s goals to promote the circular economy and to reduce plastic waste.
The initiative started in 2019 when France adopted a plan to eliminate plastic, especially in the food supply chain. Takeout boxes, cups cutlery, and plastic straws were then banned in 2021. This year, food chains will be banned from handing over toys made out of plastic and public spaces will have to be equipped with water fountains to cut the use of plastic bottles.
Fruits and vegetables
“We use an outrageous amount of single-use plastic in our daily lives. The circular economy law aims at cutting back the use of throwaway plastic and boost its substitution by other materials or reusable and recyclable packaging,” the Environment Ministry said in a statement, describing the ban as “a real revolution.”
Under the new legislation, tomatoes, apples, pears, leeks, carrots, and about other 30 items will not be sold in plastic anymore. Instead, supermarkets and stores will have to wrap them in recyclable materials. More fragile fruits such as berries and peaches will still be allowed to be sold in plastic wrapping, but this will have to be phased out in a few years as well.
Although France’s decision was widely hailed, the exemptions were questioned by environmental NGOs, such as Zero Waste Europe (ZWE). Moïra Tourneur, advocacy manager at ZWE, said in a statement the exemptions will delay and reduce the scope of France’s plastic phase-out. “Why should there be an exemption for peaches [when] around 73% of them are already sold without plastic,” she added.
For campaigners, whether the ban is successful or not will depend on retailers and consumers taking on different packaging practices than changing one material with another. A report by the Rethink Plastic Alliance found that a reusable packaging target of 50% in key sectors would significantly reduce emissions, waste, and water consumption.
Elipso, a professional association that represents plastic manufacturers in France, has disagreed with the decision. The association said in a statement that companies “will have to stop their fruit and vegetable packing activity, even though they have been working on alternatives using less plastic or recycled plastic for several years”. Elipso has already appealed to France’s State Council with other associations, seeking the ban to be removed, though this is unlikely.
A poll by WWF France in 2019 found that 85% of the population is in favor of prohibiting the use of single-use plastic products and packaging. The use of plastic wrapping has exasperated consumers in Europe, with three-quarters of British people experiencing frustration over the amount of plastic that comes with their shopping, according to a poll by Friends of the Earth.
Other countries will soon join France in a similar move. From next year, Spain will also ban plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables weighing less than 1.5kg. As in France, the law aims to encourage people to buy loose fruit and vegetables in their own reusable containers or other environmentally friendly packets. However, such moves are much more difficult in places like the US, especially as a third of US states have legislation preventing plastic bans.