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Plastic Bags to be Banned in France According to Draft French Law, but Entry into Effect Delayed

A standstill period for the Commission and Member States to comment on a proposed ban on plastic bags in France was due to come to an end on 28 December 2015. France’s proposed new law banning single-use plastic bags was notified to the European Commission on 25 September 2015. As per the EU requirements, the draft legal text may not be adopted by France while Member States and the Commission mull over its draft legal provisions.

Unusually, the national prohibition was set to enter into force rapidly, on 1 January 2016. However, it was reported in November 2015 that the ban on single-use plastic bags will now not take place until 1 July 2016. This is at least the plan, apparently so as to provide shops and suppliers with more time to get rid of their stock.

Similar to Italy, France aims, by means of the future law, to ban all single-use plastic bags that are not biodegradable and compostable. With this, the country hopes to reduce waste and litter, but also to create employment: the future ban is, for example, intended to provide impetus to companies to produce more biodegradable bags.

The text that was notified by France states as follows: “The decree defines the conditions for the application of the legislative provisions of the Environmental Code, aiming to ban the marketing of disposable plastic bags, with the exception, for bags other than carrier bags, of compostable bags that can be disposed of with household composting waste and which entirely or partially consist of bio-sourced materials”.

The ban, once introduced, will apply to small shops and supermarkets alike. Only reusable thicker plastic bags and paper bags may thenceforth be used. These may be given free of charge or be charged to consumers as part of their shopping needs.

Thereafter, from 1 January 2017 (a date which may or may not be further delayed), the ban will be expanded so as to cover single-use plastic bags that are intended for carrying bread, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.

Criticisms have been voiced over the French initiative. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) stated that replacing single-use plastic bags with biodegradable ones would not be the right approach. According to EEB Project Officer for Waste and Air Quality, Piotr Barczak, “the idea of replacing them with biodegradable bags makes no sense for two reasons. One, we have to change the structural habits of consumption. Two, biodegradable bags do not decompose, especially in a marine environment. They have to be collected separately and certainly should not be mixed with other recyclable plastics.

The French Federation of Commerce and Distribution is also reported to be displeased with the proposed law, stating that “these measures were taken without consultation, cost €300 million, and will increase the price of fruit and vegetables. Such inflation of primary food products will further hinder consumption.

It is reported that France’s lawmakers did not consider that their decision – ostensibly to safeguard the environment – could lead to a reduction of employment in that field, and injure plastic recycling companies that are currently struggling. The recycling sector is driven by small companies, which – as is predictable in the current climate – are already suffering.

Moreover, it is reported that several shops and plastic bag distributors have such huge stocks remaining, they would be at a loss over what to do with them. Apparently, market stall keepers frequently buy two years' worth of stock in one go, in order to obtain the best price.

Emmanuel Macron, the French Economy Minister, is said to have responded positively to these contentions. France decided, as a result, to delay the date for the ban to 1 July 2016.

In spite of the delay, Marc Madec, the director of sustainable development at the French Plastics Processing and Composites Federation, stated that “we will have six months of respite, but then they will endanger a sector that employs 3,000 people.” Therefore, it does not – at least for some sectors – appear to be the right solution.

Plastic bag producers and distributors are still waiting for the final decree to see what kind of bags will continue to be tolerated. The government currently plans to permit only large-volume bags with a thickness of at least 50 microns (0.05 millimetres). Multiple use supermarket bags that are in common use today are usually between 25 and 30 microns. The law also currently plans to authorise “domestically compostable bags made in full or in part from bio-sourced materials”, which should replace plastic fruit and vegetable packaging in January 2017.

But plastic bags made from organic matter may still contain up to 60% fossil-based materials, at least until 2017.

The EU notification procedure mentioned above allows the European Commission and other EU Member States to examine a Member State’s draft technical regulations which the notifying Member State intends to introduce. It prevents the creation of new technical barriers to trade by ensuring the compatibility of national legislation with EU law and Internal Market principles. The procedure also helps prevent further legal action by the Commission.

Although the initial standstill period is three months, the submission of a detailed opinion from, e.g., another Member State, prolongs the standstill period by another three months, and the EU Member State that has notified the draft law must explain what it intends to do in response. At the end of the procedure, that EU Member State has to submit the final text of the law to the Commission and other EU countries. This allows them to check whether their opinions were taken into account.

The draft text which was notified to the European Commission can be found (also in English) via the following hyperlink: Draft French Decree.

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