Every year there are about 330 million tons of plastic produced globally, half of them are single-used plastic. In February 2020, the French parliament passed the Anti-Waste Law for Circular Economy n°2020-105, called the AGEC Law. The objective of this law is to limit waste and protect the environment by reducing, reusing and recycling plastic.
On Saturday, January 1, 2022, the article of the AGEC Law that bans the use of plastic containers or flow pack film to package about 30 fresh fruits, and vegetables was activated. The anti-waste law has two articles that affect fruits and vegetables:
Article 77: Bans plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables when it weighs below 1.5kg.
Article 80: Bans the use of non-compostable stickers on fruits and vegetables.
This new law currently applies to fresh produce, including apples, pears, oranges, kiwi fruit, lemons, peppers, eggplants, leeks, among others. The public authorities established seven categories of fruit and vegetables that are exempt from the ban because there is a risk of deterioration when sold in bulk. Until December 31, 2024 products like endives, asparagus, mushrooms, early potatoes, lettuce, aromatic herbs, edible flowers, and berries will be allowed on plastic packaging. Until June 30, 2026, fully ripe fruits are also exempt from the ban. This temporary exemption gives suppliers the time to adapt and find new alternatives for packaging and shipping to prevent spoiling and waste.
The AGEC Law will reduce French plastic pollution by an estimate of 37% just by targeting fresh produce. This will reduce single-use plastic packaging by over a billion units each year just in France. If the European Union follows this initiative the impact would be much greater. Europe produces eight million tons of plastic yearly and 1.5 million tons corresponds to single-use packaging, which would be equivalent to 70 billion single-use plastic packaging. If all the plastic packaging is banned, that could mean a USD 8.9 billion opportunity for the cardboard packaging industry. Banning plastics is an environmentally friendly approach to selling produce, but eliminating plastic packaging can affect trade by creating barriers for exporters and importers.
The negative effect of the AGEC Law in the United States trade market
According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), the French ban will cause millions of dollars in losses in USA exports. For example, sweet potato exports are threatened to lose over USD 20 million annually, and grapefruit is threatened to lose USD 8 million. Free flow trade from France to other European Union countries will also be affected because products will have to be reshipped without plastic packaging protection or sticker labels identification.
As the United States, many other countries will be affected by the AGEC Law. International suppliers can have trouble complying with the plastic ban which will limit imports. Additionally, France will not be able to pack fruits and vegetables in plastic, which will limit sales to suppliers who need their produce with plastic packaging, causing a decrease in French exports.
Eco-friendly packaging alternatives for producers
Producers need to think ecologically and start adapting to packaging and trade without plastic. In the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow, other European countries announced their intentions to pursue similar plastic bans. In addition, Spain announced that in 2023 it will introduce a ban on the sale of fruit and vegetables in plastic packaging. Suppliers need to start investing in research and development of sustainable packaging alternatives to gain competitive advantage once these laws are applied. Some options might be the following:
Wood is a great option to transport fruits and vegetables, especially when shipped in bulk. Pallets are used to ship fresh produce and can be reused. Pallet bins are also an option to transport produce in smaller batches. Wire-bound crates are also a good option to transport produce in bulk. They are good to transport beans, sweet corn and produce that require hydrocooling. Wire-bound crates can be disassembled and stored flat which help with the storability and reusability. Wooden crates can be used to ship apples, stone fruit, potatoes, grapes, within others. Wooden baskets and hampers could be used to transfer products locally.
Cardboard packaging can be used to ship in bulk and in smaller sizes. Classic cardboard, corrugated cardboard and paper has a recycling rate of 81%. Classic cardboard is made of wood which makes it sustainable. Additionally there is grass cardboard packaging which is made out of grass waste sourced from compensation areas or nature reserves. Cardboard from agricultural waste is also a great option because it is made from by-products of agricultural harvests, like stems and leaves. This is a great option for fruit and vegetable packaging because agricultural waste created by the producer can be processed and reused for creating packaging.
Corrugated fiberboard is a great option to protect produce while shipping due to its strength and serviceability. It is made from about 75% fully recycled pulp and fibers. Double-faced fiberboard is predominant used for produce containers and can be used for both dry or humid produce. Waxed or fiberboard cartons can be used for fruits and vegetables that need to be hydrocooled or iced. Fiberboard containers cost about a fourth of traditional containers and can be used to ship bulk produce.
Pulp containers are made from recycled paper pulp and can be used for small consumer packages of fresh produce. They can absorb moisture which can help in the trade of products that can be harmed by water, for example berries. Pulp containers are biodegradable and can be created in many shapes and sizes that will accommodate many products.
Paper or mesh bags
Paper or mesh bags are also a good alternative to package small batches for consumers. Paper is easily recycled and can be used to package low moisture produce. Mesh bags made from cellulose are biodegradable and can be used for products that need ventilation to stay fresh. Mesh bags could be used for onions, cabbage, turnips, citrus, and others.
Another good alternative for consumer packages could be corn starch packaging with an antibacterial system. Cornstarch packaging is highly biodegradable and can be created in different presentations, including trays, bags, plates and containers. The versatility of cornstarch packaging makes it a good option to ship produced in many shapes and sizes.
Producers need to invest in research and development to prepare for the ecological change many countries are pursuing. It will be a long road until producers, buyers and consumers accommodate to the plastic ban, but it is an inevitable change. According to Tridge’s industry expert, François Rotteleur, hypermarkets in France are already adapting to the new law and are asking suppliers for all products not to be packaged in plastic, even exempt ones like grapes. On the other hand, consumers are not used to the plastic ban yet, but French buyers believe that it is just a matter of time consumers will get used to the anti-plastic law.
Karlknauer. Eco-friendly packaging for food.
LineAires. Bananas fall outside the scope of AGEC law.
NC State University. Packaging Requirements for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.
The Rainforest Site. Ban on Plastic Packaging for Fruits and Vegetables Goes Into Effect in France.
Trade Map. Trade Statistics.