French government looks to support the ‘ecological transition’ of print media

Written on 28 Apr 2021

New recommendations point the way for government and France's print media to turn the constraints of environmental liability into an opportunity

The French government has continued to signal its determination to support the print media sector in its ecological transition by building on recommendations put forward by the General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development (CGEDD) and the General Inspectorate for Cultural Af-fairs (IGAC).

The recommendations were summarised by the CGEDD and IGAC in their report in December 2020, which was publicly released on 6 April 2021.

Both public bodies, which are part of the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Solidarity and the Minis-try of Culture respectively, have been called on to assess the consequences of the provisions of the Law of 10 February 2020 on the fight against waste and the circular economy, known as the AGEC law, on the print media sector and to propose measures to enable the industry to make an "ecological transition" to more sustainable practices.

Print media in France is subject to the extended producer responsibility (REP) policy, which requires economic entities whose products generate waste to take charge of all or part of the management of this waste.

AGEC changes

More specifically, the AGEC law:

  • Abolishes, as of 1 January 2023, the eco-contribution in kind, that is, the possibility of paying all or part of this contribution "in the form of advertising inserts intended to inform consumers of the need to favour sorting and recycling of paper", and, in the meantime, makes the benefit of this mechanism subject to a minimum content of recycled fibers in press papers of 50% "on average".
  • Prohibits plastic packaging for "shipped" press publications as of 1 January 2022.
  • Bans mineral oil-based printing inks as of 1 January 2025 for "printing intended for the public", which includes the printed press.

Twelve recommendations

However, as pointed out in the report summary of the AGEC Law (accessible here and here), these new obligations require legal clarification in order to be efficiently implemented. Hence the CGEDD and IGAC have drawn up 12 recommendations to assist the French government in the implementa-tion of actions to support the stakeholders.

The main recommendations include the adoption of legislative and regulatory measures to establish a circular-economy awareness fund involving local authorities. They also include environmental require-ments, for instance:

  • The provision of different eco-contribution thresholds depending on the proportion of advertis-ing pages in the publication and the use of colours.
  • The modification of the eco-contribution rules for the graphic paper sector so that they apply to all contributors, take a consistent approach to the volume contributed and offer quantified objectives for identifying contributors.
  • Encourage the relocation of magazine-quality recycled paper production in France to reduce transport flows between manufacturing, printing and distribution;

They also recommend that a discussion is initiated with La Poste, the French post office, to limit the potential additional postal cost resulting from the elimination of plastic packaging materials. Incentives are also recommended that anticipate a ban on mineral oil-based printing inks; for example, the award of bonuses for the use of vegetable oils (as they may be more difficult to use).

An extension of some obligations to other types of paper is also recommended; for example, broaden-ing the ban on plastic packaging to all press sent as newsprint and addressed publications (including business reports, branded magazines, etc.). This can be done by including advertising and hygiene papers in the requirement to incorporate high levels of recycled fiber. A voluntary timetable could also be drawn up for increasing the proportion of recycled fiber in packaging boards.

The use of research and development support mechanisms was also proposed, in particular a fund to support innovation in the press, as well as the additional funds allocated to Ademe (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency). This is part of a recovery plan announced in August 2020 by the government to support the online and print media sector. These funds will financially support the study of alternatives to plastic packaging, investment in adapting pro-duction tools and development techniques for the commercial targeting of mailing media to cover some of the additional cost through new advertising revenue.

OC comment

Discussions are being held with the main players working with the print media sector (for example, Citeo, the French eco-organisation in charge of the packaging and paper recycling sector). Further discussions on these recommendations should be worth watching as they will help shape the new obligations imposed on the print media sector to achieve its environmental transition.