The ban on single-use restaurant cutlery was seen as a fast-food “revolution” in France | France

France’s fast-food giants are preparing for one of the biggest changes to their restaurants in decades as the government bans disposable plates, cups and cutlery for anyone eating or drinking at the location.

Chains like McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and Subway are facing what environmentalists have called a “revolution” on January 1 as groundbreaking new measures go into effect in France to combat waste.

Much of the fast food industry uses an economic model built around boxes, cups and packaging that customers tip from their drawer and into the trash can immediately after eating.

Under the new rules, any restaurant with more than 20 seats — including business canteens, bakery chains, fast food outlets and sushi outlets — will have to provide reusable, washable cups, plates, plates and cutlery for customers who dine. A complete paradigm shift for the sector.

About 30,000 fast food restaurants in France serve 6 billion meals a year, generating an estimated 180,000 tons of waste. Environmental groups said 55% of that resulted from people eating food.

“We are very happy that this is finally going into effect,” said Alice El Fassi, head of legal affairs at the NGO Zero Waste France, which pushed the measure into a law published in 2020 but gave companies until 2023 to prepare. “Fast food is a sector that generates a lot of waste. Although single-use plastic has already been banned, it has been replaced by large amounts of disposable products such as cardboard, wood and bamboo, which we consider an unacceptable waste of resources.”

Zero Waste France and other groups are pressing the government to make proper checks on whether fast food restaurants are respecting the law, and to impose fines if necessary. She said that applicable alternatives must also be considered. “Most fast food restaurants won’t switch to long-lasting classic glass or china that lasts for years, they will opt for hard plastic and we have concerns about its durability – will it withstand hundreds of washings or will it be thrown away after only a few? We’ll be vigilant about that.”

Meal tray with reusable plates and containers at McDonald’s. Environmental activists say they will monitor fast food outlets to ensure reusable plastic cutlery is managed responsibly Photo: Julian De Rosa/AFP/Getty Images

The law relates only to cutlery used by customers who are seated in restaurants. Anyone who orders takeaway, for example from McDonald’s, will continue to receive single-use packages. But environmental groups hope single-use takeaway packaging could change in the future, for example with customers leaving a deposit for reusable packaging and returning it.

The new law means that burgers and sandwiches can no longer be served in a box but can continue to be wrapped in paper. All other food – including chips, nuggets, pizza, ice cream or cake – must be served on reusable cutlery, drinks in reusable cups, and washed at 60C as in traditional restaurants.

Several McDonald’s stores have recently put out reusable plastic containers for French fries, shaped just like the company’s traditional red disposable packaging. Burger King has experimented with reusable bowls and cups with the company’s logo.

The challenge for many fast food restaurants is finding space to put dishwasher facilities for cleaning cups and plates, as well as deploying staff to prevent customers from throwing them away or taking them home. Some young customers said they worried their reusable cups would not be clean and would prefer to have takeaway.

Four French environmental groups, including Surfrider and No Plastic In My Sea, have published an open letter imploring customers to remain vigilant and to stop eating at any restaurants where they notice the new law is not upheld.

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