OPINION: France Bans Plastic

Arthur Wang

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According to ASEF (The French Association of Health and Environment), over 150 plastic cups are thrown away every second – 4.73 billion each year.

Climate change has been an issue for as long as we can remember. Plastics in particular have been especially dangerous, not only in their manufacturing but in their disposal; discarded plastics are infamous for how dangerous they can be towards wildlife. Thankfully, France is starting to take much stronger measures to address the issue with its proposed ban on disposable cups, plates, and utensils, which will go into effect in 2020. However, while decisions as extreme as this can clearly display a country’s wishes, the consequences of such a ban won’t be good for anyone involved, especially considering that our current plastic alternatives aren’t quite able to match up against this ubiquitous material.

For starters, the reusable alternatives for plastic bags require more materials than the old disposable bags, since they have to be more durable than the flimsy containers of the past. And that wouldn’t a problem at all — if they were actually being used more than once, that is. Actually, KXAN reported last year that after our own city’s plastic bag ban, a city-commissioned study found that many reusable bags were ending up in landfills in place of their disposable plastic variants. In other words, these reusable bags aren’t being treated as such; they are just wasting time, energy, and materials while the initial problems of littering continue.

Additionally, other plastic alternatives currently can’t be left on the ground to rot when it’s time to toss them away. Most of the plastics available right now have to be composted in industrial facilities, and the ban itself specifically demands that the new alternatives will have to be compostable at home. Bioplastic manufacturers will have to work fast if they wish to provide France with the alternatives it’ll soon need, or else France may have a whole load of problems to take out.

And finally, the companies who manufacture plastics are definitely not going to be happy with what France has planned, and one major organization, Pack2Go, has already preparing to fight the ban. This wouldn’t be the first time a ban on plastic goods has earned the ire of manufacturers, either — Dallas in particular bagged its five-cent fee on plastic bags after plastic manufacturers banded together to sue the city. Even if it’s only a slight restriction, plastic manufacturers are willing – and able – to hit back hard, and the sheer scale of the ban (it’s not just plastic bags being banned, after all) means that it’s likely more companies will be drawn into the dispute, eventually putting enough pressure on France to convince it to cancel its ban — making the whole measure well intended but ultimately unhelpful.

While a move like this is almost certain to make many environmentalists happy, those who take a closer look at the effects of previous bans on plastic goods will realize that things aren’t nearly as simple as this to fix. Without some means of educating people to be more environmentally aware or encouraging people to recycle or reduce their waste, these measures only serve to create the illusion of helping. Courtesy of Pack2Go and what will likely be other plastic manufacturers, they may already be causing trouble.

So, here’s a recap of the problems France faces if they wish to stick with their deal: In addition to the complications our current bioplastics carry, the French government will undoubtedly have to pacify the plastic manufacturers somehow or else face legal action to drop the ban. Even with these issues solved, there will be people who continue to contribute to the waste problem by throwing away their reusables or failing to properly dispose of the bioplastics. While being a bold move for waste reduction, the consequences of France’s plastic ban may not turn out as well as they hope.