France to ban plastic bags from March 2016

Single use plastic bags are set to disappear from French checkouts by the end of March 2016, the ecology minister said on Monday.

France to ban plastic bags from March 2016
Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

The law, part of France's energy transition bill, was originally due to come into force on January 1st, but its introduction has been delayed due to a hold up in Brussels. The European Commission has called for clarification of the text legislating the ban, for example making clear the precise size, weight and type of bags affected by the ban.

Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister for Ecology, said on Monday that the government planned to generalize the bill from the start of the new year as per the original plan; many supermarkets have already stopped distributing plastic bags, or had planned to do so from January. However, those found violating the ban will not face penalties until “the end of March”, reported Le Monde.

The bill does not include a ban on those plastic bags that are deemed re-usable or biodegradable. It also suggests promoting other methods to carry home shopping such as trolleys.

France’s efforts to reduce the number of plastic bags in distribution comes on the back of a call by the EU asking member states to reduce the 100 billion bags handed out by 80 percent.

Thanks to a previous voluntary agreement, the number of plastic bags distributed at supermarket counters in France decreased drastically from 10.5 billion to 700 million between 2002 and 2011, with a further decrease after the government introduced a tax of around six centimes per plastic bag in January 2014.

A second law is planned for January 1st 2017, which will ban all other kinds of disposable plastic bags (unless they are biodegradable), including those provided for packaging fruit, vegetables or cheese.

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France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).