Depending on who you ask, France’s impending ban on plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables is either a watershed moment in the battle against excessive packaging, or a misjudgment that will negatively affect shelf life and overall sustainability.

According to a poll conducted on our LinkedIn page, 62% of the 650 respondents believe that the new regulation will have a positive effect, while 34% think the opposite.

To learn more about the differing outlooks on this announcement, we spoke with two experts with divergent viewpoints.

First, the thoughts of Emma Samson, marketing communications manager at Searious Business, an environment-focused consultancy firm.

Personally, I think the French ban is an important step in our battle against excessive packaging. Not a battle against plastic packaging, because sometimes plastic is the right choice, but a move towards less packaging in general.

  • It will motivate producers and suppliers to invest in new zero-waste solutions to extend shelf-life.
  • It will force producers to re-examine their delivery models and shorten supply chains, reducing CO2.
  • It will allow customers to buy only what they need, thereby reducing food waste.
  • It will force customers to change their behaviour, and think deeper about how they shop and the packaging their food comes in.
  • It will send a message that plastic is not disposable rubbish that has no value, we need to treat it better.
  • It will inspire the rest of the world to look at their own plastic abuse and accelerate the circular economy.

Many people believe this rule is the French government bending to voter pressure. But it is important to note that this is not a blanket ban on plastic. France has banned some single-use plastic for some fruits and vegetables, those that research has told them will not be affected by being naked. We should give their scientists a little more credit.

Food waste is a huge concern for climate change, but there is plenty of evidence that even with all the advances in packaging it remains the case that one-third of all food is wasted. Most of the reductions in food waste have come from better refrigeration or genetic modification.

Plastic is great for preserving many foods where exposure to oxygen causes decomposition, meat and fish for example. But not all plastic packaging serves a preservative function. A lot of it is just for collation purposes, to make you buy more.

I don’t really understand the food waste argument. Look around your supermarket, they’ve already removed most of the plastic packaging (at least here in the Netherlands).

There are better solutions out there. Zero-waste solutions like laser markings or spray-on edible coatings to prevent oxidation. Legislation like this will force producers to look outside of the box.

There will always be a place for plastic packaging. It functions like no other material. It’s light, waterproof, air-tight, and most importantly transparent. I don’t believe supermarkets will replace plastic with paper bags, because you can’t see the product.

Next, Sébastien Jacques, public affairs manager at ELIPSO, an association representing plastic packaging manufacturers in France, has his say.

Our association, which is committed to ecological transition and largely in favour of innovation in the plastic packaging sector to ensure that no packaging becomes waste, regrets these measures. More precisely, Elipso is questioning the real objective behind such a ban. Is this really a benefit from an environmental point of view? Is it really a benefit in the fight against waste and litter? The question remains open.

We would like to point out that the fruit and vegetable packaging manufacturers are fruit and vegetable packaging manufacturers. By that, I mean that this is a really specific profession for very specific packaging, with very specific functionalities. It is with this approach that we absolutely must approach this subject. For each category of fruit and vegetables, a type of packaging has been developed and implemented to combine product protection, ease of use, but also to allow transport and logistics.

The first priority of our members is to provide packaging solutions with these qualities but also, and above all, packaging allowing an optimal fight against food waste, to ensure that the product can last as long as possible. Until now, only plastic solutions have these qualities, with a very low cost for the consumer.

The risk taken by this ban, taken on the only basis that these types of packaging are made entirely or partly from plastic, is to go with solutions that have a higher environmental impact, or that are non-recyclable while our members are developing the recyclability of their packaging, are moving towards mono-resin packaging, and are working on setting up operational recycling channels.

This move disregards greenhouse gas emissions – a priority that should not be overlooked. The measure taken in France was made without a prior impact study, nor LCA, nor with regards to the inherent socio-economic aspects. This is disappointing and particularly worrying for the industry, which is often locally based.

In addition to being published only two months before the entry into force of the first bans, these bans are a really bad signal for innovation, for the development of ever more recyclable solutions, and ultimately for investment in new factories, or machines. How do you plan a long-term business strategy if your products run the risk of getting banned? How do you make choices if decisions can be made without being consistent with other works in progress?

These prohibitions are doubly opposed to the framework in which they operate. On the one hand at the national level with the objectives of moving towards 100% of recycled plastic packaging by 2025 and, on the other hand at the European level, where if we want to move towards a harmonization of our markets and ensure free trade between our Member States, it is more than necessary to have legislation that is going in the same direction. It is essential to coordinate ourselves in terms of environmental protection, with long-term measures promoting the development of a green economy rather than measures focusing on a resin, regardless of its functionalities.