In 2016 France banned the use of plastic bags followed by the banning of plastic cups and plates. Now, the country’s ban on plastic is expanding towards single-user items such as straws and utensils that contain plastics. The only disposable items that will be allowed must be made from at least 50% biodegradable materials.
While the ban may take a while to get used to, plastic is a major source of pollution. France alone disposes of 4.7 billion plastic cups per year with only one percent of them being recycled. They sit in landfills, where they take hundreds of years to decompose. In comparison, paper products can take two to six weeks to do so.
Along with being a pollutant, plastic is made from fossil fuels. Its single-use properties mean that the oil used to produce plastic goes to waste. Since fossil fuel consumption directly relates to climate change, plastic usage must also be a cause of the global climate crisis.
While France’s move is admirable, it is curious as to what the impact will be. France’s plan to reduce carbon emissions coincide with the Paris Agreement passed in 2016, which aims to reduce the global emissions rate. While France is not on track to meet their goals, they’re still doing better than most countries. In 2016, France’s carbon emissions only accounted for 1% of the world’s total amount. Ranking 20th in the world, their emissions rates were lower than other European countries like Germany and Great Britain. So, while France’s attempts to reach net-zero emissions rates are good for its’ environment, its impact on climate change is very minor.
However, France’s ban on plastics was about more than just reducing their own impact on global warming. As of 2018, only 59 countries have banned the use of plastic bags. France would be the first country to completely ban single-use plastics. By doing so, France hopes that other countries will follow suit.
The United Kingdom originally banned microbeads in 2018 but other bans are set to be implemented in 2020. Canada is expected to ban single use plastics by 2021. Countries aren’t the only ones looking to eliminate the use of plastics either: states and cities within the United States are all pushing their own ban on single use plastic. Hawaii, California and New York have banned plastic bags while Seattle and Washington D.C. have banned the use of plastic straws. France’s move to banning single-use plastic products was about more than just lowering emissions rate, it’s about leading by example.
While France’s efforts may not directly impact the global emissions rates, other countries have followed their efforts. This year, plastic contributed to 4-8% of global oil consumption according to the Center for International Environmental Law. By 2050 it’ll account for 20%. By using less plastics, countries can start relying less on the use of fossil fuels and ease the transition towards renewable sources.