After leading the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference earlier this year, France have continued to lead by example in the efforts to combat climate change.
Just last week, France became the first country to ban all plastic cups, plates and eating utensils – a significant step towards reducing the global problem of plastic pollution, so congratulations France!
Plastic pollution has received a lot of attention in the media over the last few years, but why? Why has this problem suddenly come to light?
I think the ease of travel and growth of technology in the recent years has allowed us to witness the global scale issue of plastic pollution. People from across the world can now share videos and photographs to millions of viewers within seconds. It’s these shocking photographs littering our timelines and news feeds that have caused so many people to jump into action. Harrowing photographs of animals tied up in plastic netting, choked by plastic beer rings, or ingesting plastic bags. Plastic waste that we use and throw away every day. And the majority of these photographs are of plastic pollution in the ocean, a problem that has previously been ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
I’m afraid the statistics are even worse. 300m tonnes of plastic are produced per year and around 10% of this ends up in our ocean. This figure is expected to double in the next 20 years and quadruple by 2050. A recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation stated only 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, and “at least 8m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean – which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute”. The report also claimed that if we continue polluting the oceans at the current rate (a business-as-usual scenario), plastic garbage will outweigh fish by 2050 – that is insane! And to make matters worse, scientists predict that only 4% of plastic in the ocean is actually visible – this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The production of plastics is also harmful to our environment because it releases fossil fuels, a key cause of climate change. Currently, plastic production uses 8% of global oil consumption per year. So if we could reduce plastic production, we will not only reduce plastic pollution, but also reduce CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, even recycling plastics uses fossil fuels – just when we think we found a positive solution, it still creates damage elsewhere.
It is clear that our mentally towards plastic usage and the plastic industry as a whole has got to change. Now we know the scale of the problem, we can start to act on it. Some countries have already begun (remember Britain’s 5p plastic bag charge?) and others are getting on board.
The ban on plastic cutlery was part of the Energy Transition For Green Growth bill that was passed in 2015 as part of the French government’s plan to transition to green energy. By 2020, all disposable cutlery, plates and cups will be made with biologically-sourced materials that can be composted and safely degraded. This is a huge achievement because plastic from food packaging is a key source of plastic pollution – it’s estimated that approximately 30billion plastic bottles are discarded to landfill every year in the EU. If other countries follow suit, hopefully we can significantly reduce this figure.
So thank you France! We will soon be picking up our biodegradable knives and forks and tucking into lunch.