What changes from 2023 to 2026 under France’s anti-waste law

Signed into law in 2020, France's landmark anti-waste law lays out a six-year plan to reduce waste and end the use of single-use plastics. Here's what is already in effect and what is still to come.

What changes from 2023 to 2026 under France's anti-waste law
A woman recycles a plastic bottle in western France (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

In recent years, France has made strides to decrease waste production and the employment of single-use plastics in businesses, shops and restaurants across the country.

These steps – which have ranged from prohibiting businesses from giving out single-use plastic straws and takeaway lids to requiring that establishments open to the requiring that train stations and libraries provide water fountains – have been gradually put into force since France passed the 2020 law “Loi relative à la lutte contre le gaspillage et à l’économie circulaire” (law on the anti-waste and to a circular economy, also called “loi Agec”).

The rules have been put into effect gradually since 2020 – although it’s fair to say that not every new rule has been entirely respected by businesses and retailers, despite the risk of penalties and fines. Additionally, some regulations offered tolerance windows – like the six month period that allowed vendors extra time to clear out stocks of plastic straws and lids.

Here is how the legislation has already impacted life in France:

Parts of the law that went into force 2021

First, the ministry of environment published a five year “3R” decree outlining targets for the reduction, reuse and recycling of single-use plastic packaging for the period running from 2021-2025.

This included the target of reducing the sale of single-use plastic packaging by 20 percent by 2025, the goal to end all “unnecessary” single-use packaging (for example, plastic packaging around batteries and light bulbs) by the end of 2025, and plans to recycle 100 percent of all plastic packaging in France by 2025, which would be achieved by marketing plastics that can be recycled and do not contain any substances or elements that would limit the possibility to recycle it in the future.

The first tranche of the law also required companies to be more forthright regarding planned obsolescence – for instance, requiring manufacturers to respect a period of time considered to be “normal” where functionality should continue despite new updates. It also included plans to encourage the repair of electronic and home items by creating a ‘repairability index’ to inform consumers of how difficult or non-repairable the device might be.

In concrete terms, in 2021, France banned businesses from selling single-use plastic straws, disposable plastic cutlery, plastic lids for takeaway cups, expanded polystyrene boxes (such as kebab boxes), steak picks, balloon stems, plastic confetti and all oxo-degradable plastic objects.

The country also instituted several rules to encourage people to buy loose, unpackaged items rather than those wrapped in plastic. This meant that vendors were required to accept any containers or bags brought in by the customer to carry non-packaged items. It also made it so that large businesses – those bigger than 400m2 would have to provide some form of reusable container (either free or paid) for customers to use when shopping. 

2021 also saw the government ban the free distribution of plastic bottles in businesses, coupled with an investment in water fountains. Establishments open to the public were also banned from distributing free plastic water bottles, and festivals and cultural/ sporting events were no longer allowed to require that attendees only use plastic water bottles. 

Supermarkets were also required to install trash and recycling bins to sort waste after checkout, and the import of single-use plastic bags was prohibited. 

Parts of the law that went into force 2022

In 2022, establishments open to the public – like railways stations, libraries, schools, and hospitals – were required to provide a water fountain. As for bars and restaurants, they were required to indicate on their menus or somewhere visible to the public that free drinking water was available. 

Additionally, plastic tea bags, plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables weighing less than 1.5 kg and plastic toys distributed free of charge in fast-food restaurants were all banned in France. 

The anti-waste law also made it so that sticking a label directly on fruits or vegetables would be prohibited, unless the labels were compostable and made in whole or in part of biobased materials.

Single-use plastics were also entirely banned for government-organised events and within public (governmental) workspaces.

In 2022, the country also banned the destruction of unsold items like electronics and hygiene products, after having already banned destroying unsold food products in 2016.

Rules that came into force on January 1st, 2023

At the start of 2023, fast-food restaurants were prohibited from using disposable tableware and cups for meals served on site. This rule required any restaurant with more than 20 seats, which also includes work canteens and bakery chains, to provide reusable and washable tableware for customers dining in.

In January 2023, textile and clothing stores were also required to inform shoppers of which country the material was produced and manufactured in. This part of the anti-waste law was intended to increase consumption of clothing produced within France, but it also sought to draw attention to the share of recycled materials used in producing the textile itself.

France also made recycling easier in 2023 – as of January 1st all paper, plastic, metal and cardboard objects can go in the yellow recycling bins across the country. 

READ MORE: How recycling will change in France in 2023

Previously, the rules were often different based on individual localities for items like yogurt pots, toothpaste tubes and coffee capsules.

Another measure was meant to take effect on January 1st: the printing and distribution of paper receipts, unless specifically requested by the customer, but it has been pushed back, so the rule will instead take effect starting on April 1st, 2023.

READ MORE: France pushes back plan to begin phasing out paper receipts for shoppers

In the coming years 

By January 1st, 2024 France plans to ban on the sale of medical devices containing microplastics. And at the start of 2025, the country will require that all new washing machines have a device to filter out plastic microfibres, in an effort to keep them from going into the water supply. 

Also, as of January 1st, 2025 newspapers and magazines will no longer be able to be shipped with plastic wrapping. This same rule went into effect for advertising materials on January 1st, 2023. In 2025, paediatric, obstetric, maternity wards, and perinatal centres, will no longer be able to use plastic containers for reheating or cooking baby food, in an effort to “prevent exposure to endocrine disruptors.” 

Later, in 2026, France will ban the sale of cosmetic products that contain microplastics – such as shampoos, hair colouring products, shower gels and makeup removers. 

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France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

French prosecutors said on Friday they would investigate the appearance of vast quantities of tiny toxic plastic pellets along the Atlantic coast that endanger marine life and the human food chain.

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

The criminal probe will follow several legal complaints about the pellet invasion lodged by local authorities and the central government in Paris, Camille Miansoni, chief prosecutor in the western city of Brest, told AFP.

The microscopic pellets, called nurdles, are the building blocks for most of the world’s plastic production, from car bumpers to salad bowls.

They are usually packed in bags of 25 kilogrammes for transport, each containing around a million nurdles, which are sometimes called “Mermaids’ Tears”. 

But they can easily spill into the ocean when a cargo ship sinks or loses a container. Environmentalists also suspect that factories sometimes dump them into the sea.

Fish and birds often mistake them for food and, once ingested, the tiny granules can make their way into the diet of humans.

Experts told AFP the nurdles found along the coast of Brittany may have come from a plastic industry container that fell into the sea.

“We can’t rule out a single source for the industrial pellets,” said Nicolas Tamic at the CEDRE pollution research body in Brest.

On Tuesday, the French government filed a legal complaint against persons unknown and called for a international search for any containers that may have been lost at sea.

Local authorities have followed suit, and the environmental crime branch of the Brest prosecutor’s office will lead the investigation.

Last weekend, around 100 people took part in a clean-up campaign on a microplastic-infested beach in Pornic in Brittany to collect pellets and draw attention to the problem. 

“We think they’ve come from a container that may have been out there for a while and opened up because of recent storms,” said Lionel Cheylus, spokesman for the NGO Surfrider Foundation.

“Our action is symbolic. It’s not like we’re going to pick up an entire container load,” said Annick, a pensioner, as she filled her yoghurt pot with nurdles. 

French politicians have taken note. Joel Guerriau, a senator from the region, has called for a “clear international designation” of  the pellets as being harmful.

Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Bechu labelled the nurdles “an environmental nightmare”, telling AFP the government would support associations fighting pellet pollution.

Ingesting plastic is harmful for human health but nurdles, in addition, attract chemical contaminants found in the sea to their surface, making them even more toxic.

Measuring less than five millimetres in size, they are not always readily visible except when they wash up in unusually huge quantities, as has been the case since late November along the northwestern French coast.