Change to recycling rules in France and what can go in yellow bins

A new rule is said to simplify the system for the public but we look at why some campaigners feel betrayed

Non-recyclable plastic found in yellow bins is either used for testing new recycling methods, buried, or burned and used as fuelrecy
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All plastic packaging can now be disposed of in yellow recycling bins – but not all of it will be recycled.

The new rules took effect in January to encourage people to recycle more by making it easier to understand what goes where.

Put all plastic, cardboard and metal waste in yellow bins

Yoghurt pots, toothpaste tubes and plastic wrapping are among the items which no longer need to be thrown away.

Containers do not need to be washed, but each item should be kept separate and should not be in a bin bag.

The measure was already in place in many communes but now applies nationwide.

Read more: US firm to build ‘hard-to-treat’ plastic recycling plant in France

In areas already affected, people recycled 3kg more per year on average, according to Citeo, a company created to reduce the environmental impact of products sold in France.

Previously, the only plastic that could be recycled in yellow bins was bottles such as for drinks or shampoo.

‘Could instigate a change in mentality’

The change is a step in the right direction, said Kako Naït Ali, who has a doctorate in materials chemistry and is a member of Expédition 7e Continent, an association which aims to preserve the ocean from plastic pollution.

“It’s complicated for people to know where to throw away rubbish, notably plastic which is the most complex for consumers,” she told The Connexion.

She believes separating all packaging from regular waste could instigate a change in mentality.

“When I realised how much packaging I was putting in my yellow bin, I decided to make reductions.”

The change does not mean all plastic is now recyclable.

“When waste sorting was put in place, we exclusively developed recycling plastic in bottle form. It was believed this was the most attractive from an economic point of view.”

Read more: ‘Biodegradable’ plastic should not go in compost bins in France

Putting everything in the yellow bin is a ‘good habit’

According to Citeo, 65% of plastic packaging is recyclable, including bottles and the plastic covering packs of water bottles, and 15% has recycling processes which are under development and need to be perfected, such as yoghurt pots.

The final 20% cannot currently be recycled, including crisp packets.

Dr Naït Ali does believe putting everything in the yellow bin is a good habit to get into.

“Processes are being developed for a number of materials which are not currently recycled.

“To know whether this is worthwhile from an economic standpoint, we must estimate quantities and test techniques.

“Once there is a process for every type of plastic, there will be the quantities to go with it.”

Read more: How to recycle in France: Seven common questions answered

Measure contrary to EU waste management hierarchy

Muriel Papin, founder of the No Plastic In My Sea association, said that while it is good that more plastic will now be recycled, the new measure “lets people think we are able to recycle everything”.

She also believes the focus on recycling runs contrary to the EU’s waste management hierarchy, which gives priority to reducing waste and then reusing products.

“We spend billions on recycling, and very little on reducing and reusing.”

She says this contributes to perpetuating a ‘linear economy,’ with items used once and thrown away.

‘If people feel betrayed they will stop recycling’

She blames the power of lobbies in the petroleum (oil is used to make plastic), food-processing and retail industries, which have an interest in continuing to produce single-use plastics.

Non-recyclable plastic found in yellow bins is either used for testing new recycling methods, buried, or burned and used as fuel, to replace fossil fuels in cement plants, for example.

“Using these materials means reducing the environmental impact of producing cement or steel,” Dr Naït Ali said. This is preferable to it ending up on a landfill or in the sea but there is a problem in terms of communication.

“When I explain that not everything is recycled, people feel betrayed. Once you lose the consumer’s trust, they are going to stop recycling.”

New recycling innovations will take time

While 59% of plastic bottles are recycled, the figure for plastic packaging as a whole is 30%.

Only around 2% of the 15 billion yoghurt pots consumed each year in France are recycled as no site in France is capable of recycling polystyrene pots.

The 2% are sent to Spain or Germany and used to produce clothes hangers and flower pots.

“A process for recycling a yoghurt pot to make another pot is in development but it will take time.”

The government is aiming to do away with single-use plastic by 2040, and has announced it will invest €300million in developing the recycling chain.

Dr Naït Ali believes the 2040 target could be an obstacle to the development of recycling processes, including for yoghurt pots. “How can you fund a process when you know that by 2040 it will be over?”

Plastic reduction initiatives need solid scientific basis

Some companies are focusing on ecological design as a way to reduce waste.

“Take a packet of ham. It is made from one plastic, and the film covering it is another plastic, meaning the package could not be recycled. Manufacturers have made it so the package is made from a single plastic.”

Not all efforts to reduce plastic have a solid scientific basis, said Dr Naït Ali, including SNCF’s decision to stop selling plastic water bottles on its trains, opting for cans and cartons instead.

“The environmental impact is much greater. A water bottle is more easily recycled, whereas a carton is made from three different materials.”

Government wants to reduce household waste by 15% by 2030

From January 2024, everyone in France will be required to have a compost bin or to use public bins.

Many areas have also introduced a redevance incitative (incentive fee) waste collection system.

Read more: Maggots, protests: Dordogne reacts to ‘pay-as-you-throw’ waste system

This involves modifying the waste collection tax to include an extra fee based on how much waste you produce.

This results in a reduction of 30% to 50% of household waste, and a 30% increase in recycling, according to the government.

Also in January, France banned single-use tableware for clients eating in restaurants with more than 20 seats.

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