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France becomes first country to ban plastic plates, cutlery

The ban, which will go into effect in 2020, will apply to plastic plates, cups, and utensils. 

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    Plastic glasses, knives, forks, and food boxes are pictured in a takeaway restaurant in Paris in September.
    Bertrand Combaldieu/AP
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As of 2020, you won't be able to legally purchase plastic cups, plates, or utensils in France.

With its unprecedented new law, France has become the first country to ban all plastic dishes and cutlery. The initiative is one small part of the country’s Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, as lawmakers aim "to make France … an exemplary nation in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying its energy model and increasing the deployment of renewable energy sources." 

The ban has faced criticism from some who argue that the laws hurt consumers and violate existing European Union legislation regarding the free movement of goods and the protection of manufacturers.

But supporters of the law, which took effect last month and gives producers until 2020 to make all disposable tableware biosourced and compostable, say it is an important environmental step forward: France currently throws away more than 4.7 billion plastic cups every year, only 1 percent of which are recycled, newspaper Les Echos reports. 

Plastic bags have already been banned in France and other countries, as well as in some US states. In an opinion piece for Le Figaro, Environment Minister Ségolène Royal writes of the importance of banning plastic bags to curb pollution of the ocean.

But Ms. Royal was initially opposed to the ban of dishware and cutlery, which comes with its own unique challenges. Her concerns that the law was "anti-social," as low-income families frequently rely on plastic plates and utensils, resulted in the ban being postponed until 2020, rather than beginning in 2017 as many of its supporters wanted. 

Other opponents argue that the new measures violate European Union rules on free movement of goods. Eamonn Bates, the secretary general of Pack2Go Europe, a Brussels-based association that represents packaging manufacturers on the continent, said his organization plans to challenge France’s ban.

"We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law," he told the Associated Press. "If they don't, we will."

Mr. Bates also expressed concerns that the shift to biosourced plates and utensils will encourage littering, and argued that there is no proof that bio-sourced disposable cutlery is more environmentally beneficial. 

The law "will be understood by consumers to mean that it is OK to leave this packaging behind in the countryside after use because it's easily bio-degradable in nature," he said. "That's nonsense! It may even make the litter problem worse."

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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