Shoppers could find themselves paying up to 10% more for items in unrecycled packaging, while products in recycled plastic could cost them up to 10% less.
The new move, launched by junior ecology minister Brune Poirson, would mean a lifestyle change for people in France. Just 26% of plastic packaging was recycled in 2016 - or just 3% if plastic bottles were excluded from the total.
Annual use of throwaway plastic adds up to an average of 96 bottles, 40 coffee cups, 996 cigarette ends, 49 straws and five takeaway boxes per person... and it takes the lives of 100,000 sea creatures killed by pollution.
Zero Waste France, which provided the figures, said the bonus-malus plan was a good idea as it was a first in Europe but it was “not just a question of recycling, but also of reducing and limiting plastic usage, as that is key”.
Laura Châtel, who heads the group’s campaign against plastic, said: “It is a small step as it targets PET [polyethylene terephthalate] bottles, where recycling is already strong, but if it is carried out at all stages of production could seriously affect product prices. It helps thinking to evolve towards non-usage.”
Drinks firms such as Coca-Cola, Vittel and Orangina have already joined in a campaign to encourage recycling, saying PET bottles are 100% recyclable and can make new ones. Ms Châtel also welcomed moves by shoppers to take their own action. The Plastic Attack group have been shopping in supermarkets, stripping off excess packaging and leaving it at the shop.
But stores are taking action too. E.Leclerc supermarkets are running down stocks of plastic cups, straws and picnicware, aiming to offer only reusable items next spring.
Chief executive Michel Edouard Leclerc said they are in talks to vastly reduce packaging, although this will take 18 months. Their shops in Haut-de-France are testing machines to give loyalty card-holders credits for returning plastic and glass bottles, like the old consignes.
MPs have voted to extend the ban on plastic straws and drink mixers to include throwaway plastic cutlery and containers by 2020.
Elsewhere, organic shops have popularised the idea of buying products en vrac, where clients avoid packaging by reusing containers, but supermarket Auchan has been doing the same for its “hard discount” items since 2005.