French Sénat sees sense

28 November 2005

Today, hardly a week goes by without more evidence on the alarming rate of fossil fuel energy depletion and on how, via our ever-greater reliance on such reserves, we are hastening global warming.

While doom-monger predictions may occasionally need balancing with harder scientific fact, brand-owners and consumers alike are undoubtedly thinking harder about our environmental legacy. Even the UK Government, often cited as an environmental hand-wringer rather than a positive action-taker, has suggested it could be compulsory for UK cars to run on at least 10% biofuel within a decade.

Meanwhile, "naturally-based" biodegradable packaging material suppliers, for instance NatureWorks with its corn-starch-based PLA, are striving to convince brand owners that not only will their products now perform as well as, if not better than, fossil fuel-based alternatives, but that users will be taking an important environmental standpoint. To date, however, higher costs, and lack of sufficient capacity, have seen take-up disappointingly low.

Against such a backdrop, with words not yet matched by actions, the proposal by French MPs to outlaw the country's use of all non-biodegradable plastic packaging by early 2010 could be viewed either as courageous or as a well-meaning, yet extremely unrealistic, move. Of course, even if the proposal survives the legislators, it seems highly unlikely sufficient biodegradable plastic packaging capacity could be made available by 2010 to allow any whole-scale switch.

While regular French politics watchers may not have been entirely surprised by the proposal, France's own environment minister was apparently caught unawares. Several European plastic packaging and environmental bodies also report being flabbergasted not only that such a blanket ban had been proposed, but even more so that France's first House, L'Assemblée Nationale, had endorsed it, apparently with little debate.

As we went to press, the proposal (which observers admit has little chance of adoption in current form) was due before the French Sénat which, it was anticipated, would either reject it or approve it in substantially watered down form, for instance by backing a plastic shopping bag ban rather than an outright plastic packaging ban. Whatever the outcome, might the French move signal a glut of similar proposals from other countries? Polymer producers, brand owners and converters will no doubt all be watching closely.

Jonathan Baillie

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