French cheeses such as Camembert and Mont d’Or - and any sold and served in wooden boxes - may soon be forced to change their packaging, if a new European recycling rule is applied.
If it comes into force, the new EU regulation - part of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) - will state that by 2030, all food packaging must be recyclable, and manufacturers and producers must adopt the permitted specifications for eco-friendly processes.
And while much of France’s traditional cheese packaging is made from wood, it is - despite appearances - not always fully recyclable. The creation of a logistics chain to fully recycle packaging from cheeses such as Mont d’Or has always been deemed too complicated and expensive.
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‘Plastic alters the product’
Some producers are now concerned by the potential impact of these regulations on their long-standing methods, as well as the effects that alternative, plastic packaging could have on their cheeses.
“Wood is part of the maturing process for several AOP [Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée] cheeses,” the manager of the Réo cheese dairy told TF1.
“Plastic heats up the cheese, and alters the product over the long term,” another producer told BFM Normandie.
Some are also worried that their AOP label will be revoked or called into question if the packaging boxes are forced to change.
Manufacturers of the boxes have also voiced their concerns.
“We've invested a lot in this packaging, because we believe in it,” said Claire Lacroix, CEO of the Lacroix group, to TF1. “We think it's a really good solution.”
She added that the packaging sector alone generates 2,000 jobs in France and sustains 45 companies. She is asking the government to provide an exemption for the cheese boxes, due to tradition and long-standing know-how.
The regulations have not yet been definitively voted through the EU, nor has France fully agreed to the news rules, so there is still - in theory - room for gastronomic traditions to be exempt.
‘Plastic boxes an aberration’
Guillaume Poitrinal, who advocates for the use of wood in the construction industry, said the regulations are evidence of the “madness of European bureaucracy” on X (formerly Twitter).
He continued: “Wooden boxes - low-carbon, lightweight, biodegradable, made in France - are better for the planet than plastic made from Saudi oil, processed in China using coal-fired electricity, and which will end up in the ocean.”
Sea welfare campaigner and president of the Fondation de la Mer association, Sabine Roux de Bézieux, agreed that replacing wooden packaging with plastic alternatives would be “an aberration”.
Au moment ou s'ouvre la 3eme session de négociations sur le traité international contre la pollution plastique, c'est aberrant.— Sabine Roux de Bezieux (@SBezieux) November 13, 2023
Cheese lovers have also voiced concerns. One customer said that they feared “losing the traditional aspect and origins of local products” and would prefer “a wooden box rather than a plastic one”.