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France Just Banned Plastic Cups and Utensils

France Just Banned Plastic Cups and Utensils

Yes, you read that correctly. France, a country of 66 million people, just passed a law that will ban plastic cups, plates, forks, knives, and spoons in the country within four years. Only biodegradable plastics made from organic materials will still be permitted.

The law was passed under France's new "Energy Transition for Green Growth Act", an attempt by the country to put its money where its mouth is on sustainability. Following the Paris Climate Summit last year, we heard a lot of serious talk from Western leaders about the need for change. France, it seems, is the only one rushing to action.

The plastic utensil ban is a bold move, despite being one that we all understand the need for so well. Why do we make forks designed to be used for 15 minutes out of a material that lasts for 500 years? Whose responsibility will it be to care for your plastic water cup four centuries from now?

France's exception for biodegradable packaging and utensils shows a true understanding of the problem and how to fix it. We can't stop people from ordering take out or using disposable cups at a party, but we also have to reverse the pandemic of plastic pollution. Our ecosystems are literally choking to death.

The answer is to design products that are in tune with the rhythms of nature, and ban those that disrupt them. It doesn't matter if a biodegradable fork is only used for 15 minutes because it has a second life as food for plants and bacteria. Nothing can be considered waste or pollution that contributes to the cycles of nature.

But change will not come about easy. As you would expect, corporate interests are already mobilizing against any curbing of the plastic market. Pack2Go Europe, the trade association for Europe's packaging industry, has already lobbied to Brussels to declare France's actions illegal under EU law.

There may still be hope, however. Despite similar lobbying and scare tactics by industry groups, a nationwide ban on plastic shopping bags went into effect this July. Maybe this is a sign of a true change in the minds of governments and consumers.

Top image: Alexis Matsui for PBS NewsHour

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