French customers will be encouraged to adopt more environmentally friendly habits in 2022 under a series of new regulations, including a ban on the use of plastic packaging around a range of fruits and vegetables.
Environmentalists have long campaigned against single-use plastics as pollution worsens globally while President Emmanuel Macron has backed the move defending a “pragmatic” approach.
Beginning Saturday, leeks, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, apples, pears and about 30 other items will no longer be sold in plastic, to the dismay of the sector's packaging industry. Instead, they should be wrapped in other recyclable materials.
Plastic will still be allowed for more fragile fruits such as berries and peaches but is to be gradually banned in the coming years.
The October decree covers for example the sale of apples under 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lbs).
However, the full legislation will not be applied until 2026, allowing firms to adapt, including on the sale of red fruits considered fragile. Six months has also been granted to use up existing plastic packaging stocks.
"We were never consulted," complained Laurent Grandin, head of the fruit and vegetable sector's Interfel association.
He told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) the costs were "insurmountable" for small companies who would have to keep using plastic to protect exports, notably to Britain, a major client for apples.
Pomanjou produces up to 40,000 tons of apples annually in the Loire valley and has over the last three years introduced 100% cardboard packing.
However, packing costs have as a result soared 20% to 30%, said company representative Arnaud de Puineuf.
Big supermarket group Casino said it will now sell tomatoes in cardboard packaging and provide customers with paper or cellulose bags.
The packaging companies say the Oct. 8 decree caught them by surprise, particularly the ban on recycled plastics.
"We have client firms ... who will have to stop their fruit and vegetable packing activity, even though they have been working on alternatives using less plastic or recycled plastic for several years," said a statement from the Elipso association that represents manufacturers.
The government said the new regulation is expected to eliminate about 1 billion items of plastic waste per year.
Magazines and other publications will also need to be shipped without plastic wrapping, and fast-food restaurants will no longer be allowed to offer free plastic toys to children.
Elipso and Polyvia, a union representing 3,500 firms making packaging, have appealed to France's State Council, which has jurisdiction over administrative disputes, against what they say is a distortion of European markets as the ban applies solely to France.
But Armand Chaigne, director of industrial markets at packaging firm DS Smith, sees the benefits, notably for cardboard manufacturers.
"It is estimated that in Europe, out of the 8 million tons of plastic produced per year for single-use packaging, 1.5 million tons could already be removed," he said.
"That represents about 70 billion units of single-use plastic packaging,", or "about 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) of additional turnover potential for cardboard," he added.
Walking, cycling instead of driving
In the coming year, among others, French car ads will be required to include a message encouraging people to consider greener transportation.
Starting from March, they will have to mention one of three messages: “For short trips, prefer walking or cycling,” “Think about carpooling” or "On a daily basis, take public transport."
According to a decree published last week, the new regulation will apply to ads on television, radio, newspapers, billboards and online. Advertisers who do not comply will face a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($56,652) per run.
Similar mandatory messages have already been part of ads for processed foods since 2007 in France, like “For your health, avoid eating too fatty, too sweet, too salty.”
The transport sector in France is responsible for about 31% of greenhouse gas emissions, half of that generated by private cars.
Also in 2022, French phone operators and internet providers will be requested to communicate to their customers an estimate of greenhouse gas emissions generated by their activity online and usage of mobile phones.
The move is meant to raise greater public awareness of the environmental impact of digital technology. Emissions are notably generated by data centers, which use energy to create data clouds. A Senate report last year found that the sector accounted for 2% of greenhouse gases in 2019 in France./agencies