FRANCE: As the government forbids the use of disposable plates, cups, and tableware for anybody eating or drinking on-site, fast-food businesses in France are preparing for one of the greatest changes to their establishments in decades.
On January 1, groundbreaking new waste reduction regulations that environmentalists have dubbed a “revolution” will go into effect in France, putting fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and Subway in the crosshairs.
A large portion of the fast-food industry relies on a disposable economic model where consumers tip boxes, cups, and packaging from their trays into trash cans as soon as they finish eating.
According to the new regulations, any eatery with more than 20 seats—including work canteens, chain bakeries, fast-food restaurants, and sushi joints—must supply reusable, washable cups, plates, dishes, and silverware for diners. Environmental organizations in France described it as a “complete paradigm shift” for the industry.
The approximately 30,000 fast food restaurants in France deliver 6 billion meals annually, producing 180,000 tonnes of garbage. According to environmental organizations, 55% of that was due to people dining at home.
Alice Elfassi, head of legal affairs for the NGO Zero Waste France, which fought for the measure in a law published in 2020 but gave businesses until 2023 to prepare, said, “We’re extremely happy that this is finally going into force.”
The government is under pressure from Zero Waste France and other organizations to conduct thorough investigations into whether fast-food chains abide by the law and issue fines if appropriate. It stated that the alternatives put in place should also be considered. The law covers only dinnerware used by diners who are seated in restaurants.
People who buy takeout, as from McDonald’s, will still get single-use packaging. Environmental organizations, however, are hopeful that changes will be made to single-use takeaway packaging in the future. For instance, users may pay a deposit for reusable packing and then return it.
According to the new law, eat-in burgers and sandwiches can still be wrapped in paper even though they can no longer be supplied in a box. All other food, such as chips, nuggets, pizzas, ice cream, or cakes, must be served on reusable tableware, and beverages must be provided in reusable cups that have been cleaned at 60°C, just like in conventional restaurants.
Recently, certain McDonald’s locations introduced reusable plastic fry containers that are designed to resemble the company’s iconic red disposable packaging identically. Reusable bowls and cups with the Burger King logo have been tested.
Finding space for dishwashers to clean the cups and plates and employees to prevent customers from tossing them away or taking them home has proven difficult for many fast-food businesses. Some young consumers expressed concern about the cleanliness of the reusable cups and chose to get takeout.