Penalty! Unrecyclable plastic faces 10 percent tax increase in France

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15 Aug 2018 --- A French Environment Ministry official has unveiled plans to introduce a penalty system for consumer goods packaged in unrecyclable plastic. Speaking with French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Brune Poirson, Secretary of State for Ecological Transition, said that from 2019 products sold in unrecyclable plastic packaging would cost up to 10 percent more. Meanwhile, plastic packaging which is recyclable could cost up to 10 percent less. The introduction of the penalty system is designed to help transition France to a 100 percent plastic recyclable society by 2025.

According to the magazine 60 Million Consumers, France currently recycles approximately 25 percent of its plastic nationwide. A 2015 research report from the Plastic Soup Foundation estimated that eight million metric tons of plastic are discarded in the ocean annually, causing damage to marine habitats. The French Government has already banned single-use plastic bags in supermarkets.

Poirson told Journal du Dimanche: “Declaring war on plastic is not enough. We need to transform the French economy. When there's a choice between two bottles, one made of recycled plastic and the other without, the first will be less expensive.”

The measures to be introduced include:

  • Consumer products sold in unrecyclable plastic packaging will cost up to 10 percent more by 2019.
  • “Unnecessary” and “substitutable” plastic items including plates, straws and cups will be banned from 2020.
  • The introduction of a deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles.
  • Taxes for recycling operations will be decreased while taxes on landfilling will rise.
  • The color of recycling bins will be standardized nationwide.

“We're hoping that companies play along so that clients aren't the ones penalized,” Flore Berlingen of the association Zero Waste France tells Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Guichard of the Elipso Federation of Plastic Packaging Makers warns: "For bottles, giving consumers a choice is possible. But we can't forget other items — today there's no recycled plastic available for yogurt pots."

The NGO view
Harmen Spek, Innovation & Solution Manager at the Plastic Soup Foundation tells PackagingInsights: “Giving penalties for packaging without recycled content is a good start to reach a new mindset under producers but will not be sufficient.”

“Unfortunately there are some big hurdles: EU food safety regulations are very strict and give hardly any room for implementation of recycled content in plastic food packaging. Especially fresh foods like meat, fish, dairy products and beverages are in direct contact with the plastic packaging and form, according to the regulations, an extra food safety risk,” he says.

“Due to the enormous ‘marketing battles on the shelves’ of supermarkets, there is a constant drive to come up with new forms and appearances of products and packaging,” he adds. “This has led to a transition of materials from, let’s say, conservative materials (like paper, carton, glass and metal) into more and more plastic with sometimes highly complex product compositions to fulfill the marketing demands.”

“Availability of high quality recycled plastic in the market is lacking due to the complexity of the generated plastic food packaging nowadays, so it remains as a vicious circle. In that way it is better to simplify the regulations for food packaging: try to stop the plastic material transition and focus on safe materials that have proven to be highly recyclable like glass, paper/carton and iron. Prescribing a manageable and good recyclable small group of plastic types, for plastic packaging that can't be replaced yet, will make the system more sustainable as well,” he says.

Regarding plastic waste ending up in the environment: “Within the EU it will not make a significant difference if food packaging is made of virgin or recycled content; more or less the same percentage of the plastics will still ‘leak’ to the environment and make a contribution to the ever-growing plastic soup. For that only strong regulations will make a big change like banning all single-use plastic packaging and trying to stop the material transition.”

“Maybe taxes on all plastic packaging can be avoided with a strong focus on alternative materials and refillable and reusable (refund) packaging,” he suggests.

“Looking at problems worldwide: in developing countries where landfilling is the norm and unmanaged waste is a plague, every measure to regulate plastic waste is of course necessary. In general, we need to come up with an absolute reduction of single-use plastics to turn the tide,” Harmen concludes.

EU requirements
The new penalty system is designed to bring France closer to its ambitions of being a 100 percent plastic recyclable nation by 2025 and meet the recent EU requirements on single-use item plastic eradication.

In May, The European Commission announced new rules to combat increasing levels of plastic pollution in the oceans. The EU-wide rules aim to target the 10 highest polluting single-use products, which together constitute 70 percent of all marine litter items, according to the EU.

The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead. Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.

The new rules apply different measures to different products. Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market. For products without straight-forward alternatives, the focus is on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption; design and labeling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers.

The European Commission’s new measures were described as “a symbolic attack on poorly defined products” by the EU-level Trade Association for European Plastics Converters (EuPC).

Meanwhile, François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics (EUBP) described the EU measures as “vague regarding sustainable alternatives.”

Last week, China and the EU signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Circular Economy Cooperation at the 20th EU-China Summit taking place in the Chinese capital on July 16-17. The world’s two biggest economies believe they stand to gain from aligning on policies that support the transition to a circular economy, which can unlock new sources of economic growth and innovation while benefiting people and the environment.

By Joshua Poole

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst's sister website, PackagingInsights.

To contact our editorial team please email us at

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