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As climate change and environmental concerns become more widely understood, much of the world is looking to France for guidance. This guidance is coming not only in the form of carbon emission standards, but also in compostable packaging ideas. In fact, just this September, France mandated compostable serviceware and diversion goals for food waste.

France’s Packaging Mandates

As part of the new packaging mandates implemented in France, all conventional plastic cups, cutlery, and plates have been outlawed. Only home compostable alternatives are allowed. President Francois Hollande explained this decision to the public by saying that the mandate is a piece of a larger strategy to earn France a reputation as “an exemplary nation in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying its energy model and increasing the deployment of renewable energy resources.”

Recycling Efforts Fall Short

Those responsible for France’s environmental efforts were pushed to action by a 2015 report from French consumer watchdog group UFC-Que Choisir which stated that only 23 percent of French municipal waste is recycled. Considering that the entire European Union has a goal of 50 percent waste recycling by 2020, recycling efforts are clearly not at the level that experts had hoped. According to UFC-Que Choisir president Alain Bazot, “the tools are notoriously insufficient” for consumers to recycle on a regular basis.

Bazot points to a widespread ignorance of recycling, not just in France but elsewhere in the world. The EU will not reach its goal of 50 percent recycling by 2020 if dramatic efforts are not taken, and those efforts have reached the packaging industry. A mandate for compostable single-use serviceware will demand an exponential growth in the composting infrastructure in France, or else all of the compostable material will simply end up in the landfills.

France now faces the task of replacing 4.73 billion single-use plastic cups, plus billions of other single-use items, with compostable items that can fulfill consumer need and environmental standards. This has never been done before on a large scale, so the world will be watching to see how France handles the change. Perhaps America will be the next nation to make the dramatic changes needed to save the environment.