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28/09/2016

France prepares to unleash a barrage of waste regulation

Climate & Environment

France prepares to unleash a barrage of waste regulation

Plastic shopping bags will be banned in France from January 2016.

[Edinburgh Greens/Flickr]

The annual waste conference in Nantes last week saw a number of important announcements regarding regulation and tax, both from France and the European Union. Journal de l’Environnement reports

Thanks to the French Energy Transition Law, the big news at this year’s waste conference, was raft of new environmental regulations that will come into force in the coming months. Representatives from France’s Ministry of Ecology promised to start enacting the legislation as soon as possible.

Already announced in a ministry press release as “imminent”, the decree banning single use plastic bags in France (shopping bags on January 2016 and packaging for fruit and vegetables from January 2017) will be published before the end of the year. The ban will concern plastic bags with a thickness below 50 microns (0.05 millilitres) or with a volume of less than 25 litres.

Single use plastic bags are already banned in San Francisco and are subject to extra taxes in Wales and Ireland.

The European Union has committed to reducing plastic bag use by 80% by 2019, but if global plastic consumption continues at its current rate, all the world’s sea birds will have consumed traces of plastic by 2050, according to a report published 31 August.

Building waste and municipal collections

The decrees on building waste and municipal waste collection also figured highly on the programme. Patricia Blanc, the director general of the French ecology ministry’s risk prevention department, explained that the first of these will “specify the threshold above which distributors will be obliged to collect the waste from their products”, while the second will “allow communities to reduce their collections of household waste by setting up separate collections of biodegradable waste”.

Another text regarding the regulation of solid recovered fuel (SRF) is also due to be published. Energy production plants (electricity or heat) that use non-hazardous waste as fuel will be re-categorised and added to the list of facilities classified for environmental protection, and SRF will no longer be classified as waste.

It is not yet certain whether or not this move will breathe new life into the struggling recycling sector, which is being squeezed by low raw materials prices.

>>Read: Recycling industry under pressure from falling raw material prices

No tax incentives

France’s general tax on polluting activities (TGAP) is fixed until the end of 2015, but the government must publish its new rates for 2016 before the end of the year. This should be carried out “as soon as the retroactive budget for 2015 is published in the coming days”, according to Cédric Bourillet from the Ministry of Ecology.

The current plan is to raise the TGAP rate on waste stockpiling from €40 per tonne in 2016 to €48 per tonne in 2025. This will clearly not be enough of a change to dissuade operators from resorting to landfill if recycling continues to prove unprofitable, or to achieve the objective of cutting the disposal of non-hazardous waste by half between 2010 and 2025.

Changes to the French TGAP will also take account of a recent audit on local taxes, while debates on giving France’s ‘Outremer’ departments special status are currently under way, and local authorities that perform well will be given bonuses.

“France needs to revolutionise its tax incentives. This is no secret. To achieve the ambitious European recycling objectives, it is vital to involve all the citizens as part of an incentivised programme,” said Michel Sponar, from the European Commission’s Directorate General for the Environment.

From design to waste

The imminent arrival of the new Circular Economy Package, which our sources say will finally be presented on 2 December in Brussels, and will contain even more ambitious targets on recycling, only increases the pressure.

Michel Sponar said, “Unlike previous waste directives, this package will cover the whole life-cycle of products and will include new and ambitious targets on waste.” He added that “European structural funds will not be used to finance landfill or incineration projects.”

But contrary to the recommendations of the European Environment Bureau, there will be no separate targets concerning re-use or prevention of waste; two crucial criteria for reducing the consumption of resources across Europe.

This article was originally published by EurActiv France