The French parliament has voted unanimously to prohibit the sale of non-biodegradable plastic wrapping as of 2010.

Strangely enough, the new legislation may help farmers, as bio-degradable plastic bags tend to be made from agricultural products like corn, and in the future potatoes or tomatoes may also be used to produce these environmentally friendly bags.

Ecologists in France are thrilled. Ecology groups claim that traditional plastic bags are used on average for just 20 minutes, to be then either incinerated or left lying about, in which case they need 400 years to bio-degrade. For many years plastic bags have been held responsible for environmental degradation and for the extinction of various forms of marine life.

The battle to decrease plastic bag usage has already begun. A 20 per cent decrease in 2004, from 15 billion units to 12 billion units was hailed as good sign but this initial success is considered insufficient. The minister for ecology, Nelly Olin, has set a more ambitious target, aiming to decrease the number of plastic bags distributed in 2006 to half the number that were distributed in 2003.

French MPs decided to ban not just plastic bags, which are responsible for 2 kgs of the 360 kgs of waste produced by every French citizen every year, but also plastic wrapping in general. Half of the 100 billion wrapping materials used in France every year are made of plastic.