There are nearly 5.25 trillion particles of plastic floating in our oceans, collectively weighing somewhere around 268,940 tons, according to a 2014 study published by the science journal PLOS ONE—and that’s not counting the thousands of tons more that clog our landfills and pollute our groundwater, plastic that in some cases can take as long as 450 years to fully decompose.
Luckily, the problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. In an effort to reduce the plastic contamination of our natural world, many countries and US states have adopted rules that impose small fees and taxes for single-use plastic bags, one of the largest sources of plastic pollution. Still others have gone ahead and banned plastic bags completely. But one European country is taking efforts to reduce plastic pollution to a new, and somewhat controversial, level.
According to a new law implemented by French legislatures in August, all disposable plastic dishware will be banned from sale in French stores by 2020. Instead, all single-use plastic dishes and utensils sold in France—everything from plastic picnic knives and plates to disposable cups dispensed from automated coffee machines—will be required to be fully compostable and made of biodegradable materials, the AP reports. The ban, introduced in the wake of last year’s Paris Climate Talks, was adopted not only to reduce plastic litter pollution but also to decrease the amount of energy used and greenhouse gasses emitted by plastic processing plants.
While a clear victory for environmentalists, the ban has received its own share of criticism. Opponents to the new law say that it will hurt financially struggling families who use plastic dishes as a cost-saving alternative to more expensive ceramic tableware. Others, including European representatives of the packaging manufacture industry, say that the new law violates European Union rules on the free movement of goods and have threatened legal action in an effort to have the ban repealed.