France Is Freeing Fruit and Veg from Its Plastic Prison
France is making big moves to ban single-use plastics. Keep reading to discover more.
Under a new law, a large portion of the country’s produce will no longer be sold in single-use plastic containers.
Stacks of wooden crates filled with bulging Savoy cabbages, thick sheathes of wild leek and bunches of loose-leaf lettuce line the front of Kilogramme. And it’s not because the morning’s delivery has just arrived.
Inside the Parisian grocery store, a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables are also in thin wooden boxes. At the back of the space, all kinds of pulses, beans and grains are stored in glass self-service dispensers. And on the shelves are rows of sauces and compotes in tins and jars. There isn’t a shred of plastic packaging in sight.
“Our objective was to have a space that offers food that is healthy for people but also healthy for the planet,” says Iris Herbomel, the owner of Kilogramme, a zero-waste grocery store in Paris’ northeastern 19th arrondissement. “For us, that means we shouldn’t be using unnecessary packaging. Who needs their bananas sold in a plastic bag?”
Kilogramme, which opened in 2018, is one of a growing number of grocery stores in the French capital attempting to tear up the traditional food supply system, which they see as seriously damaging to the environment, and create a model that is localized, artisanal and less wasteful.
“We are in a period of crisis,” adds Herbomel. “It’s a time when everyone wants to make an effort. We can’t just throw everything away. People are more engaged on this subject of the environment, much more aware of it.”
Soon, grocery stores and supermarkets across the whole of France could look more like Kilogramme. In October, the government announced that as of January 1, 2022, the use of plastic packaging for fruits and vegetables under 1.5 kilograms will be banned. Thirty types of fresh produce, from zucchini to eggplants, cauliflowers to radishes, and apples to kiwis will need to be on the shelves without plastic packaging.
The ramifications are considerable. Currently, 37 percent of fruits and vegetables in France are now sold in packaging, according to the French Ministry for Ecological Transition. Some 2.2 million metric tons of plastic packaging is used each year, and the recycling rate is just 27 percent. The government estimates the ban will mean that over a billion fewer units of plastic packaging will be used each year.
Moïra Tourneur, lead for advocacy at the campaign group Zero Waste France, considers it “a good basic measure.” The creation of plastic packaging — from the extraction of raw materials, to the molding of packaging, the transportation and then eventual disposal, has a “very large impact on the environment, not only in terms of emissions but also on biodiversity,” she says. “Therefore the ban is very favorable. It’s visible for consumers and will impact the wider reduction of unnecessary waste.”
The rule comes with caveats, however. Stores will be given until June 30, 2026 to find alternative packaging solutions for fruits and vegetables that “present a significant risk of deterioration” such as raspberries. Critics are also concerned there aren’t yet any sanctions for manufacturers who continue to use plastic packaging.