French plastic bag ban may not happen as early as March 2016

French government has decided to postpone its decision to ban plastic bags. The prohibition of using plastic bags at checkouts in French shops and supermarkets was scheduled for 1 January 2016. The measure will not be effective before the end of March 2016.

According to the French Ministry of Environment, the European Commission has chosen to block the decree until March 28 to assess the legal risks of the measure and avoid the use of bag manufacturers. According to the Ministry, weight, size and type of bag concerned with the prohibition should be specified, in line with European regulations. This is one of the flagship measures of the law for the energy transition initiated by French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal and promulgated on 18 August.

The draft decree submitted to public consultation specifies that these are bags, with or without handles, made out of plastic and defines its dimensions as a volume of less than 10 liters, or thickness less than 50 microns – which correspond to the most common manufacturing standards. This is most fragile bags and more difficult to recycle.

The bill also provides for the ban on plastic bags called “oxo-fragmentable” which is certainly degradable. It disintegrates into fine particles – but not digested by microorganisms and not compostable in accordance with current standards.

The bags provided as primary packaging for foodstuffs in bulk are not considered as carrier bags, states the draft decree. By law, however, the bags used for ‘fruit and vegetables,’ which are disposable will also disappear from 1 January 2017. This comes with one exception: compostable bags made using biobased materials stay permitted.

Many supermarkets have anticipated the entry into force of the decree by ceasing to distribute plastic bags for single use in the car, or preparing to the to the 1st of January. The Federation of enterprises of trade and distribution (FCD) states that the distribution of plastic bags has fallen sharply since a voluntary agreement signed in 2003. The number of bags distributed by retailers rose from 10.5 billion to 700 million per year. Many retailers are paying bags, between 3 and 5 cents, to encourage consumers to bring their own shopping bags.