The ban on single-use plastic by 2040 received the final green light from the National Assembly on Tuesday .
But the choice of such a distant deadline prompted an avalanche of appalling reactions on social networks. Especially since at the start of the week, China set itself the goal of reducing plastic use by 30% in just 5 years and banning many single-use plastics from major cities in just one year .
There is an environmental emergency. Millions of tonnes of plastic are produced each year, about a third of which ends up in the wild, according to WWF data.
At the current rate of pollution, there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050, according to a study by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen McArthur Foundation.
And yet the question of the end of single-use plastic is not as simple as one might think. Explanations.
What is a single-use plastic?
But what exactly are we talking about when we talk about single-use plastics? This does not only concern coffee stirrer, cotton swabs and disposable cutlery, which will be banned anyway from 2021, in accordance with a European directive.
“A single-use plastic is a packaging designed to be used once, then discarded,” explains Laurence Maillart-Méhaignerie, MP and leader of the LREM group, who presented the amendment. Bottles of soda, bottles of shampoo, sachets of cakes, cans of detergent, jars of yogurt, trays of meat, tubes of toothpaste, sandwich packaging … Plastic is everywhere in everyday products.
“The date of 2040 may seem distant, but this measure implies a very profound change in the habits of the French and a radical change in industrial production”, justifies the member for Ille-et-Vilaine. “Clearly, you can’t think of it with a snap of your fingers. You have to find alternatives every time, ”she concludes.
What are the advantages of plastic?
In fact, given the current use of plastic, some specialists are wondering about the implementation of such a wide ban. “We don’t use plastic just because it is not expensive, but for its characteristics: tightness, resistance, lightness, flexibility, easy to sterilize…”, emphasizes Kako Naït Ali, materials engineer in civil engineering and doctor of materials chemistry.
In the case of plastic bottles, replacement by glass bottles does not seem to be a problem.
Ditto for dry products, which can be packed in cardboard or offered in bulk. But in other cases, plastic proves to be difficult to replace, judges the engineer.
She cites in particular bleach, “dangerous product which should not be exposed to light” or the packaging of fresh products. “I’m waiting to see how we will function without the plastic film on the meat. You can go to the butcher, but the meat doesn’t last long like that, ”she notes.
What can we replace plastic with?
The chemist fears that by banning plastic, the government will only react to the “great emotion” aroused by this packaging and be “wrong fight”. “I was rather expecting a reorganization of waste management, which would improve sorting to avoid disposable,” she said. “In the disposable, we have around 20% plastic. So if we ban plastic, it risks being replaced by other disposables ”.
However, glass, aluminum or cardboard are not neutral in terms of environmental impact. “In addition, we increase greenhouse gases because we increase the weight of products during transport,” she points out.
Elipso, the professional association which represents the producers of plastic packaging, defends the same position. “If there is no more plastic bottle, there will be more aluminum cans,” says Emmanuel Guichard, general manager of Elipso. “It is not because we prohibit single-use plastic that we will develop reuse. There has been no less straw since the end of the plastic straws, ”he adds.
Why not recycle plastic?
With its ban on single-use plastics by 2040, the bill does not satisfy any party. Without being accompanied by any public impact study or technical details, the text seems “vague” and “unrealistic” to manufacturers.
The bill also sends mixed signals to the industry, said Elipso. “The objective that we all pursue in the industry and which was given to us by President Macron, is 100% recycled plastic in 2025. For two and a half years, we have had working groups with the ministry and a lot of investments have been made in this direction. And there, we are told the ban on plastic? », Is surprised Emmanuel Guichard.
For their part, environmental activists regret a late goal and impose no constraints on businesses. “Industrialists need a strong political signal to change. This is why reusable packaging quotas and financial incentives are needed, ”defends Laura Chatel, advocacy officer at Zero Waste.
To this criticism, the deputy Laurence Maillart-Méhaignerie assures that “a roadmap to reach the 2040 objective will be defined by the government in a decree taken at the latest in 2022”.
Are consumers ready?
The end of single-use plastic is basically a societal upheaval. Are consumers ready to change their habits? Reusing their packaging rather than throwing it away? The whole question is there.
By way of comparison, “single-use” plastic bags disappeared from the boxes four years ago, but, even if a lot of customers have got into the habit of bringing their own, mass distribution continues to circulate approximately one billion reusable bags each year.
These thick plastic bags are only used about ten times.
The end of plastic packaging represents a much greater upheaval. In addition to lightening our shopping bags, “these packaging allow us to spend less time at home and in the kitchen, making our yogurts, our soap, our cookies,” says Kako Naït Ali. “To have fresh food without plastic, you have to go shopping every day. And lug around with cans to recharge your laundry for example, “confirms Emmanuel Guichard. “We will have to adapt to new products, because the disappearance of plastic will often lead to the disappearance of the product, like liquid toothpaste.”
In any case, bulk seems to already appeal to consumers.
The sale of food products by weight and without packaging is booming, with more than a third of French people already buying them, according to recent data from Nielsen.
We must now move up a gear.
Published on lesechos.fr