‘Picnic Tax’ Is Next Step in France’s Green Effort

September 17, 2008 01:32 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
France will start to tax distributors of nonrecyclable plastic plates and cutlery as part of its larger effort to push consumers to buy more eco-friendly products.

Minister Announces New Tax

The French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, confirmed on Monday that the government will be implementing the tax.

The “taxe pique nique” will be about 0.9 euros ($1.26), but it does not yet specify what amount of cutlery the tax will be applied to, and the list of product categories that will qualify is subject to further revision. Borloo says that the tax will apply to nonrecyclable cardboard—but not plastic—tableware, and will be applied to distributors and importers. The Independent also reported that the move will affect plastic and paper disposable cups.

The new tax is part of an effort to reduce the 360 kg of trash generated by the average person in France each year. Borloo says that it extends a system already in place to penalize heavily polluting products such as detergents, oils and pesticides. The tax is also seen as a natural extension of the “bonus-malus” system, which levies extra taxes on cars that pollute the most and gives tax breaks to eco-friendly vehicles. The current plan is to be expanded to include consumer electronics such as refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, batteries and wooden furniture.

Reactions: Picnic tax piques Parisians, plastics packagers and political party

The general public’s response to the new tax was “general incredulity,” reported The Telegraph. Picnicking is a popular French pastime, and “not since the unveiling of Edouard Manet’s scandalous painting Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe in 1863 has a row over the humble picnic—or pique-nique—so convulsed France,” wrote The Independent.

‘I’m not really prepared to carry heavy plates and cutlery, so I’ll probably go on as before—it’s just another tax,” one mother of a family picnicking in Paris told the Telegraph. ‘They’d probably make more money by taxing all these new laws they keep passing,’ she said. Another family said they will change their picnicking ways. “We’ll have to start cutting back on disposable stuff, otherwise we’ll never get out of this mess,” said one mother of two.
Other opponents of tax include the plastics packing industry lobby, which said the tax will be costly, inefficient, difficult to implement, and does not target the products that create the most waste.

The move was also blasted by the opposition Socialist party, which says that it penalizes those who can only afford to picnic while leaving exempt the rich, who can afford to eat at restaurants. “Those who have picnics are not the same people who go to restaurants,” said Socialist spokesman Stephane Le Foll, according to the Telegraph.

Related Topic: Recycling taxes around the world

France is not the only European Union country using its tax system or other government legislation to encourage its citizens to consume fewer harmful goods or to recycle more frequently.

Belgium enacted its own “picnic tax” last year, and its measure includes plastic cling film and aluminum foil.

Ireland began taxing plastic bags
in 2001 and saw its consumption of the item fall by 90 percent. Some locales, such as Bhutan, Bangladesh and the city of San Francisco have banned petroleum-based bags altogether.

Earlier this year, China banned stores from giving out free plastic bags, while New York City has proposed legislation to require that all large grocery stores recycle plastic bags.

Although plastic bags have come under fire all around the world, lone defender Stephen L. Joseph, an attorney who represents the plastic bag industry, says that paper bags are also detrimental, as they release methane into the air as they decompose.

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