Q-Tips to Eco-Tips: Things We Can Do Without

Rookie reporter Marie Zafimehy, on the website of talk radio station RTL, provides an example of the kind of ‘lifestyle’ response to French Circular Economy legislation which downplays the gravity of the issue, offering little more than a tongue in cheek greenwashing of the disposable consumer advice articles churned out by online media as clickbait: can we call this single-use plastic journalism?

Article source: "Comment remplacer coton-tiges, verres et assiettes en plastique ?", Marie Zafimehy, RTL, 01/01/2020.

Plastic straws, plastic bottles, disposable knives and forks: by 2040, all single-use plastic products are to disappear in France. That, at least, is the aim of the proposed law on the Circular Economy which passed its first reading in the Assemblée nationale on Monday 9 December. Since 2017, shops in France have been banned from providing plastic bags at checkouts. European governments have been writing new laws to extend this ban, little by little, to an increasing number of products and to develop alternatives to plastic, such as unpackaged bulk food retailing, which is to be implemented in 2021. The goal is for all plastic packaging to disappear from shelves by 2040.

Many French public figures, including actor Pierre Niney and journalist Hugo Clement, as well a number of environmental organisations, have criticised the government for choosing such a distant date. "It's a radical – but not a sweeping – change," advisors to Brune Poirson, the French environment minister, told RTL last December. Consequently, only three new types of products are prohibited from sale (following a grace period in which any remaining stock can be sold off). These are: cotton buds (Q-tips), disposable plastic cups and plastic plates. How can these everyday products be replaced in a sustainable way?

1. Biodegradable and reusable cotton buds

Everyone ought to know that you shouldn’t delve too deep when cleaning your ear canal: just wiping the outside of the ear with a small piece of cotton wool, a flannel or a towel should be enough for aesthetic purposes. In fact, earwax helps protect the inside of your ears, so removing all of it is inadvisable.

However, for those who are still determined to use cotton buds, very similar options do exist. It is possible to buy biodegradable cotton buds made of bamboo sticks that can be composted after use.

Other options are fully reusable, such as oriculi, traditional Japanese ear cleaners, which are also made of bamboo and decorated on one end with a coloured bead so that, according to news magazine L'Obs, "everyone knows which is theirs in the bathroom." The other end of the stick, which is slightly curved, is used for cleaning.

2. Collect eco-friendly cups

The best alternative to disposable plastic cups are eco-friendly reusable cups. They are mainly used at festivals where users are charged a refundable deposit. They allow you to drink all night long without having to worry about creating rubbish, since they can be washed and reused.

These cups – generally made of hard plastic – are specifically branded for festivals or special events, making them the perfect item to collect and display in your kitchen or on a festive buffet for your guests. And as a bonus: they don't break as easily as regular glasses.

3. Buy edible plates

Of course, you can replace your disposable plastic tableware with disposable paper tableware. But the new law is the perfect opportunity to shake things up a bit!

If the very thought of washing up a pile of normal plates makes you tired, you can choose to use edible ones. However, they are slightly more expensive: a set of 10 plates will set you back, on average, between 4 and 10 euros, depending on the size.


Translation by Cyriel Méniel and Claire Brunin

Editing by Sam Trainor

Le Club est l'espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n'engagent pas la rédaction.