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France Declares “War on Plastics” with Measures Planned Against Its Abundant Use: Retail Sector to be Affected

Hong Kong’s trading community may recollect that, in April this year, the French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a Circular Economy Plan aimed at transforming the French economy. This plan upheld one of President Emmanuel Macron’s election promises to achieve a recycling of 100% of plastics by 2025. Brune Poirson, the French deputy Environment Minister is in charge of implementing this ambitious objective.

At present, France recycles only 20% of its plastics, placing itself well below the EU average of 41%. Nonetheless, the French Government’s stated objective is to position France as a European leader within the Circular Economy.

In an interview in the French newspaper JDD dated 11 August, the Minister, Ms. Poirson, detailed her plan to increase recycling and fight against superfluous and substitutable plastics. The plan has three key measures to incentivise pro-recycling consumer choices and encourage local authorities to recycle municipal waste.

The first measure is a surcharge system which will be gradually implemented from 2019 on consumer goods with packing made of non-recycled plastic. This surcharge could represent up to 10% of the final consumer goods’ price, so as to incentivise customers to purchase recycled products. The Minister gave the example that when there will be a choice between two bottles, the recycled plastics bottle will be cheaper than the non-recycled alternative. This measure is thus designed to ‘nudge’ consumers into choosing the more environmentally-friendly product.

Second, the French government will lower the VAT rate applicable to recycling activities and increase the levy on landfill of waste (the so-called TGAP). By this reform, the government hopes to change the current situation under which it is often cheaper for local authorities to simply send waste to landfill than to recycle it.

Third, the Minister announced that single-use plastics such as cups, straws and picnic products will be banned in France as from 1 January 2020. It should be noted that this move will directly affect Hong Kong traders of such products, operating in France. The complete list of products to be subject to the ban will be published in the first half of 2019. In addition, the Minister publicly endorsed the recent European Commission proposal for an EU Directive on Single-use plastics.

In her interview, the Minister also emphasised that there are previously announced measures to be implemented by 2020. These include the standardisation of sorting instructions at national level and the creation of a logo to indicate whether products have been manufactured with recycled plastics.

However, she refused to indicate a deadline for the implementation of a “solidarity” deposit system on plastics bottles. This deposit scheme envisages paying a small levy on plastic bottles, to be allocated to general-interest projects upon return of the bottle. On the recent commitment made by 55 companies and professional associations to double the amount of recycled plastics used in the manufacturing of their products by 2025, the Minister warned that in case these voluntary commitments are not respected, the government will intervene.

At the same time, French retail giant Leclerc announced that it would voluntarily phase out all single-use plastic items in its supermarkets. Writing also in JDD, the CEO of the Leclerc group Mr Michel-Edouard Leclerc, said that the chain was anticipating the ban on single-use plastics. Notably, as of September 2018 it will destock all its single-use plastic products in order to stop selling them at the end of the first quarter of 2019. In parallel, Leclerc will only order recyclable or sustainable materials made of cardboard, bamboo, or other available alternatives. Furthermore, Leclerc pledged to put pressure on suppliers in the next round of negotiations to find alternatives to plastics for its store-brand products, with the objective that new production lines will be operational in 18 months. According to Mr Leclerc, such a policy comes in response to customer demand. In particular, he pointed to the fact that 87% of Europeans are concerned by the effects of plastics on the environment. His objective is that Leclerc should be among the top three European companies in terms of sustainable development by 2022.

Hong Kong traders can click on the following to peruse the Minister’s interview (available only in French).

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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