As the plastic ocean grows, the question of substitution becomes more and more pressing. With China now refusing to reprocess our plastic waste, we have no choice but to reinvent a more virtuous industry and sustainably change our consumption habits.
It is a fact, plastic has invaded our planet. Packaging, bags, tableware... Its use answers to a logic of ease and low cost. This golden age is now over. It has been almost a year since China announced its intention to drastically restrict the import of plastic waste into its territory, precisely where European countries, including France, used to send them. Faced with the reality of rising reprocessing costs, the question for companies is: what to do with our plastics? France is responding to this question in a regulatory way, through the law on energy transition, which provides for the end of disposable plastic tableware in 2020. The G7 agreements recently signed by the major industrial and retail groups are in line with this, committing them to recycle and reuse at least 55% of plastic packaging by 2030 and recover 100% of all plastics by 2040.
This is, however, only a drop in the bucket compared to the immensity of the work to be done.
Cleaning up the plastic ocean requires much more than voluntary action or legislative enforcement. A real awareness must be created. Consumers are becoming more and more sensitive to the environmental cause. While fish and other cetaceans regularly die from the kilos of plastic they have ingested during their existence, people are finally questioning the impact of their activities on the planet. According to a report published by theNGO WWF,Europe is the second largest producer of plastic in the world, with 150,000 to 300,000 tons of plastic macro-waste and between 70,000 and 130,000 tons of micro-plastic dumped in the sea every year. The urgency of a plastic detox is no longer to be demonstrated: it is now that we must act.
Solutions exist but they have a cost. The use of bioplastic, for example, is not without economic impact. Its price is estimated to be, on average, 2 to 4 times higher than that of petroleum-based plastic materials. The French are certainly ready to give up the use of plastic straws or cups, but would they accept to pay three times more for their fruit juice or coffee? Probably not. Another major constraint is that agroplastics produced from sugar or starch compete with animal feed. This forces manufacturers to turn exclusively to bioplastics derived from inedible products - algae, in particular - and to invest heavily in their R&D. There is no miracle recipe and the 100% biodegradable will not be obtained in one day. The transition will pass by alternative methods. Imperfect, certainly, but accessible to all.
Plastic recycling, such as RPET, could be used more to limit raw material consumption through the circular economy
Given the amount of waste available today, recycling is an intermediate solution. This is the challenge of the circular economy, which aims to direct manufacturing processes towards a more virtuous production circle. A brand like Adolphe Lafont, the inventor of professional clothing in 1844, is committed to replace polyester-cotton with linen, which requires neither water nor pesticides, for the manufacture of a range of restaurant aprons "made in France". Recycled and recyclable raw materials are the future of textiles. Flax has the advantage of promoting a 100% French agricultural sector - France is the world's leading producer of flax - and of creating value in our territory in a logic of short circuits. This experience opens the way and gives ideas to other industrial groups, such as the Chargeurs group, which is testing the integration of this type of alternative material in its industrial processes of interlining.
If manufacturers have to change by reducing waste at the source as much as possible, we must also admit that the subject belongs to consumers and that a change in our behavior is necessary. Favouring bulk sales, packaging purchases in stores in their own reusable containers, choosing eco-designed products, adopting an anti-waste approach, consuming less and consuming better are voluntary and committed acts that allow everyone, as an individual, to act on a daily basis. The protection of our planet is the responsibility of all: distributors, producers and consumers. And the change is now!