France’s president wants to cut plastic pollution. How can I help?

Emmanuel Macron says the problem is a time bomb. Here we look at tips on cutting your consumption of plastic

Plastic waste can take decades or centuries to break down, and even then, becomes highly-polluting microplastics and nanoplastics
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France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has called for an “end to unsustainable” plastic use, and new measures against plastic pollution.

“If we do nothing, plastic waste will triple again by 2060. So plastic pollution is both a time bomb and a scourge that is already here,” he said, in a video message at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, to representatives of 175 countries.

He added the plastic manufacturing sector will also emit 56 billion tonnes of CO2 per year between now and 2050 if nothing changes.

The president added that “we must put a definitive end to the globalised and unsustainable model”, which sees plastic being produced in China or OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, and then exported as waste to developing countries.

He said that these countries are “less well equipped with waste treatment systems” to manage the waste, and highlighted that “only 15% of plastic is recycled on a global scale”.

Mr Macron called for a number of solutions, including:

  • Reduce the production of new plastics
  • A ban, as soon as possible, on the most polluting products - such as single-use plastics, “which are the most dangerous to health"
  • 100% of plastics being placed on the market must be fully recyclable
  • An end to plastic pollution by 2040, across more than 50 countries

Mr Macron is now aiming to negotiate with these countries, in a bid to reach a “historic agreement” on how to manage the entire life cycle of plastics.

He said that he is aiming to “reach an agreement by the end of 2024, one year before the United Nations Ocean Conference in Nice".

Read also: Returnable glass beer and wine bottles making a comeback in France

How can I reduce plastic in my daily life?

The French ecological transition agency Ademe has issued advice on how to reduce plastic in your daily life and at home.

It said: “It is imperative to reduce our plastic waste at the source, as well as for manufacturers to find ways of doing without this material or reducing its use through eco-design.”

Its tips include:

  • Buy products with less packaging or those with recyclable packaging. Reusable packaging that you can use several times over, such as glass jars, is also recommended.
  • No more plastic bottles. Alternatives include metal and glass.
  • Use solid products in the bathroom and for cleaning. These include solid bars of soap designed for washing up and for shampoo etc.
  • Eat fewer processed products sold in multi-packs. Instead, prioritise larger packs and serve your own portions; and use more whole, raw ingredients.
  • Take reusable cloth bags when shopping to avoid plastic bag use.
  • Store items in non-plastic alternatives. These include cardboard boxes, glass bottles and jars.
  • Use alternatives to plastic in the kitchen. These include wooden kitchen utensils, Pyrex moulds, stainless steel kettles, and metal dustbins.
  • Choose non-synthetic clothes, and buy fewer, better-quality items. Synthetic clothes release microplastics into wastewater with each wash.
  • Give children wooden toys, or dolls and cuddly toys made from fabric rather than plastic.
  • Delay the end of life of objects as long as possible. This includes electronic and household appliances, garden furniture, and storage boxes. Take care of them and respect their user instructions. If you no longer need an item that still works, consider donating it (to friends, family, or to charities), or selling it second-hand, rather than throwing it away.

The agency also said that many so-called ‘biosource’ (more sustainable) plastics only contain a small percentage of this type of plastic and that even products that include this may not be biodegradable.

Microplastics and nanoplastics

Plastic is unsustainable because it uses fossil fuel oil to be produced. It can also take decades - if not longer - to degrade. Even when it does break down it becomes microplastics and nanoplastics, which cause pollution.

A report from the International Pollutant Elimination Network (IPEN), the Plastic Soup Foundation, and the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), concluded: "According to the various studies analysed, exposure to micro- and nano-plastics and their chemical additives can have inflammatory effects and disrupt the endocrine, digestive, respiratory and immune systems.

“[This can lead] to significant risks in terms of pathologies, reduced fertility, and even neurodevelopmental damage [development of the nervous system in babies and children].”

Ademe warns that “no plastic should ever be abandoned in nature”.

People are also encouraged to take part in this year’s annual #NoPlasticChallenge. In its sixth year, the event brings together members of the public, NGOs, and businesses to reduce their plastic consumption.

The event comes from the French NGO No Plastic In My Sea and focuses on plastic clean-up events on beaches, as well as encouraging people to use less plastic in the first place.

More than 400 organisations have signed up to take part this year in France. The NGO has also put a questionnaire online, to enable people to calculate their ‘plastic footprint’ and find out ways to reduce it.

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