On 1 January 2022, a new legislation banning plastic packaging will come into force in France. The new law -No. 2020-105 of 10th February 2020 – also known as the “AGEC law” adopted the European Directive (EU) 2019/904 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment into the French national legal framework. The French law goes well beyond the requirements of the European Directive, providing limited flexibility to reach the targeted reduction of plastic products. It only considers a phase-out option for consumer packaging under 1,5 kg. Freshfel Europe is urging the European Commission to request France to allow more time for the fresh produce sector to adapt to the new legislative requirements as adopted by France. Freshfel Europe has warned that the new legislation might also significantly endanger other environmental priorities undertaken by the sector, namely commitments on food quality and the highest safety targets for fresh produce as well as waste prevention initiatives. Freshfel Europe also voices its concerns that, pending the introduction of new innovative solutions on stickers, information to consumers might also be compromised.
Over the past months, Freshfel Europe has, with its members, extensively discussed the many changes resulting from new European packaging requirements, which reduces the use of plastic inspired by the transcription in national law of the European Directive (EU) 2019/904. The fruit and vegetables sector is committed to adhering to European and national environmental and climatic strategies reflected in the European Green Deal and the Farm -to- Fork strategy. The fresh fruit and vegetable sectors also fully share the objectives of reducing plastic packaging . This is already widely demonstrated by proactive sectorial initiatives and new business practices to engage in a progressive move out of plastic packaging and search for innovative solutions which anticipate legislative requirements. Freshfel Europe regrets that the adoption of the European Directive 2019/904 in France has been taken despite these efforts and the concerns of public stakeholders, including the European Commission and other Member States as well as the voices of the private sector both in France and at European level on the far-reaching implications of the new French law.
While some temporary derogations are set by French decree 2020-105, Freshfel Europe has multiple apprehensions about the fast-track introduction of national legislation that goes well beyond the requirements of the European Directive. This is endangering the good and fair functioning of the Single Market as its opens the door to a proliferation of different rules and timing among Member States. As of 1st of January almost all plastic packaging for sale to consumers, as well as all non home-compostable stickers will be banned in France. This is expected to lead to distortions of competition and discrimination among operators across the European Union. Philippe Binard, General Delegate of Freshfel Europe commented: While the deadline for plastic phase-out in set for 2040 in France, the phase-out target for fruit and vegetables is set for 1st January 2022 with only limited temporary derogations up to 2026 for some particularly fragile products. The same pressure is not placed on other food products, hence representing discriminatory status for fresh fruit and vegetables”. He added “The French law does not consider alternative solutions such as the use of recyclable plastic packaging, the ban being the only option. The removal of most fruit and vegetables plastic packaging at such short notice does not allow alternatives to be tested and introduced in a timely manner and stocks of existing packaging to be cleared.
Philippe Binard also warned :”The impact of the coming into force of the AGEC Law is just as worrying for the adhesive labels affixed to fresh fruit and vegetables sold to French consumers. The major difficulty today is that there is still no company capable of supplying “Agec-compatible” labels. The ban on non-home compostable stickers without having an alternative on the market is problematic as it will significantly endanger the labelling of essential information conveyed to consumers on the stickers such as origin, brands, geographical indications or organic”.
First alternatives might start to be placed on the market only towards the end of 2022 at the earliest. While this announcement is to be welcomed, Freshfel Europe considers that it might lead to new costly machinery investment costs for the sector. More time should be given to securing access to a diversity of solutions at affordable conditions for the sector before enforcing the new law. Philippe Binard added: The provisions for stickers in France are very confusing. French producers and traders would be allowed to affix stickers on the fresh produce in France but only if shipped for consumption to other member states or internationally. Affixing labels by operators located outside France would be restricted if the final destination were France, which is not easy to anticipate for producers at the time of packing.” Freshfel Europe views the Frrench provision on stickers leading to a lot of inconsistencies and many uncertainties for the free movement of goods within the European Union.
Pending the elaboration of alternative solutions for both consumer packaging and stickers, the sector also fears a number of collateral effects from the new rules that should not be overlooked as they are also very relevant for the Farm-to-Fork strategy. Quality and safety of products might be challenged as well as the food waste sector prevention initiatives. The reshaping of packaging policies is also expected to further excacerbate the packaging cost increase for the sector in search of alternative solutions or materials.
Given the lack of transparency in the interpretation of the law, the limited flexibility and tight deadline for the coming into effect of the French Law as from January 1st 2022, Freshfel Europe urges the European Commission to act. On December17th, in a letter addressed to 6 European Commissioners, Freshfel Europe requested the European Commission to dialogue with the French Authorities to secure more time for the fresh produce sector to adjust to the national French Law, until technical solutions for both sales packaging containers and stickers are available. Philippe Binard stated “ It is crucial to allow more time to avoid market distubances and steps that would deeply endanger the free circulation of goods in the internal market and would generate distortion of competition and discrimination among operators.” He underlined “ The Commission should take all the necessary steps to prevent the proliferation of different rules for the adoption of this directive as it will only lead then to a complex, costly and confusing business environment” . Beyond the individual objective of the plastic strategy, Freshfel Europe insists that it is of paramount importance to protect the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable sector and prevent the introduction of costly new burdens on a sector which represents products identified by many as an undisputed essential partner for solutions to the climate and other societal or environmental challenges.
Note to the Editors: Freshfel Europe is the European Fresh Produce Association, representing the interests of the fresh fruit and vegetables supply chain in Europe and beyond. Freshfel Europe currently has over 200 members, including both companies and associations. For more information, please contact Philippe Binard at firstname.lastname@example.org