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France says no to plastic plates and utensils by 2020


France is officially the first country in the world to ban plastic plates and cutlery, a move that local fans of the environment would also like to see come to the College of DuPage (COD).

The law is an amendment to the country’s existing “energy transition for green growth” act passed in 2015, which regulates energy targets for transport, housing, and renewable energy. This law initially targeted fairly flimsy plastic bags at grocery stores and marketplaces in France during its early enactment.

Alternatively, companies will be required to use biologically sourced materials in the production process, thereby bringing an end to petroleum-based produce. End users of these utensils will be required to work on composting them domestically. The Washington Post quotes President François Hollande that the intent is “to make France … an exemplary nation in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying its energy model and increasing the deployment of renewable energy sources.”

France has been a leader when it comes to fighting greenhouse emission. The European nation hosted the Conference of Parties (COP) 21st conference in November 2015, after which 55 countries that represent 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions signed a binding agreement to reduce carbon output in an attempt to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

There have been praises given to France’s actions. COD environmental biology professor Shamili Ajgaonkar referred to the ban as “a step further towards a vision to mimic nature and eliminate the concept of waste.”

“In general, I think that we need to take steps towards shifting from a linear ‘cradle-to-grave’ economy, which centers on consumption and disposal to a circular ‘cradle-to-cradle’ economy, which centers on resource efficiency and recovery,” said Ajgaonkar.  “And yes, sustainability goals in general, though challenging, as they involve the consideration of numerous trade-offs,  are attainable if we determine them to be our priority.  It is not the lack of solutions but the collective human desire to execute them that is the biggest hurdle.”

Like many environmental laws, this law will have a huge financial impact on the production costs incurred by manufacturing entities.

Pack2GoEurope, a European convenience packaging association, has filed an official complaint to the European Union Commission, with the sole objective to stop this law from going into force. The company argues that “finding a package that meets the really critical food hygiene requirements that consumers want, that can also be composted in a domestic composter…right now they don’t exist.”

It is, however, uncertain if the commission will listen to their plea, or give in since a law enacted a step further doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. Most European nations just curtail the usage of plastic bags. The Scandinavian nation of Denmark gives tax incentives to customers for using reusable bags, while the territories of the United Kingdom tax consumers for using plastic bags. German stores are required to pay a recycling tax if they vehemently decide to give out plastic bags, while Italy totally frowns on giving out non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Here in the United States, the city of Chicago is among 98 cities that have passed a strong plastic control law, or is the process of passing one. There are no laws that take a step further to give an alternative to plastic utensils.

The usage of plastics by consumers is an issue for businesses that have been compelled to give them out. The Jewel-Osco on Ogden Avenue in Naperville, for example, try to make buyers aware of the need to use reusable bags during their shopping errands. They play a short video repeatedly which states, they used 1,179 boxes of plastic bags in 2015. That is an equivalent of 32 pallets of plastic bags, or 13 tons of plastic. The video also urges customers to help reduce plastic consumption by 20% in 2016 by using reusable bags.

The food service company at COD, Sodexo, has very strong environmental policies that are sustainable to help minimize plastic and its associated waste. The company is guided by a ‘Better Tomorrow Plan’ that serves as a roadmap for creating a better future.

“Some examples include the Choose to Reuse container program and the Weigh the Waste program to reduce food waste,” said Lynn Konicek, Sodexo’s general manager at COD. “We have also developed and implemented proprietary tools such as SMART (Sustainability Management and Reporting Tool), a comprehensive, web-based, operational metrics dashboard that assesses sustainability performance at individual campuses. In addition, we strive to promote sustainable sourcing by creating relationships with local vendors and those who offer sustainably grown and produced goods.”

Even students here at COD with the zest to have a clean environment have reacted positively to the bold step taken by France and even want students here to emulate France’s example.

“As an officer of the environmental club, I feel as though France’s decision to ban plastic cups and plates by 2020 is a positive change,” said Hayley Deam, an officer of the environmental club. “(It is) a change that is a step in the right direction. Reducing the use of plastic does not need to be a government regulation for COD to make a change. From using a reusable water bottle to bringing one’s own silverware, each person can make a positive impact.”

The environmental club even has tangible plans to help students and the entire college community to feel their presence. “Last year the COD Environmental club worked to get composting here on campus to help reduce the amount of organic waste COD produces,” Deam continued. “In doing this we ran into a few issues. Our administration was not committed to a wide-spread composting program, because, COD as a community is not as successful as it could be even when it comes to recycling.  From unwanted plastic that cannot be recycled to contaminated recyclables, these are some of the issues we face. When our recycling is contaminated it costs COD more money because our waste company will charge a fee. If COD made a choice to reduce our use of plastic all together we could be more successful in possibly implementing organic recycling,” added Deam.

But there are concrete examples of the value COD puts on the environment. COD has been a leader in an environmentally friendly campus community. In fact, most buildings on the campus have earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Vandy Manyeh, News Reporter
September 28, 2016