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France announces new consumer incentive to reduce plastic waste

A plastic bottle washed up at Ao Phrao Beach, on the Thai island of Ko Samet on June 10, 2018.
A plastic bottle washed up at Ao Phrao Beach, on the Thai island of Ko Samet on June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The French government plans to launch a sales tax initiative to incite consumers to buy recycled plastic products, the Ecology Ministry’s Brune Poirson said in an interview on Sunday.

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Poirson told French weekly Journal du dimanche that the government hopes to launch the recycled plastic initiative in 2019.

The idea is to apply a lower value-added tax (VAT) on bottles made of recycled plastic, and increase the VAT on bottles that aren’t, as an incentive for consumers to buy the former.

“When the consumer is faced with two plastic bottle products, the one made of recycled plastic will be less expensive, whereas the bottle not made of recycled plastic will be more expensive,” she said.

According to Poirson, “up to 10 percent of the product’s price” would be subtracted or added to the VAT, depending on whether or not it's made of non-recyled plastic.

She said the government isn’t seeking to ban all plastic products outright, but rather to encourage companies to incorporate more recycled plastics when manufacturing their products.

This approach has been welcomed by some businesses. The proposed consumer incentive “follows a logic we support,” Emmanuel Guichard of France’s federation of plastic manufacturers told AFP on Sunday.

But some environmental groups worry the plan is one-sided, focusing too much on consumers rather than on industry.

“We hope that industrial manufacturers will do their part,” Flore Berlingen, head of the NGO Zero Waste France, told AFP. “We don’t want consumers to be the only ones who are penalised.”

French and EU goals

The French initiative is part of the government’s larger goal to recycle 100 percent of the country’s plastic waste by 2025. Currently, only 25 percent of France’s plastic waste is recycled, according to the consumers’ rights magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs.

A 2016 decree, set to take effect in 2020, effectively bans businesses from using plastic plates and cups. It also requires disposable tableware to be made from 50 percent compostable material, a number that will rise to 60 percent in 2025.

Paris has also called to ban single-use plastic goods, such as straws, by 2020. A sustainable agriculture bill including an amendment to ban plastic straws is currently being considered in the Senate.

The European Commission in May announced a similar plan to ban 10 single-use plastic products by 2019, pending approval by European Parliament. The EU said it targeted the 10 products that reportedly constitute 70 percent of marine litter, including straws, drink stirrers, cotton buds and cutlery.

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