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Legislation for single-use plastics

The UK is falling behind Europe in efforts to tackle plastic pollution
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Legislation for single-use plastics

The UK is falling behind the rest of Europe in meeting the minimum standards set across the EU to tackle plastic pollution, according to an open letter to Environment Minister Rebecca Pow.

The warning comes from 21 organisations including Greenpeace, City to Sea, Keep Britain Tidy and Friends of the Earth.

Banning plastics in Europe

Countries across Europe are legislating in accordance with an EU directive to ban the most polluting single-use plastic, including cutlery, plates and polystyrene food containers.

Despite many claims to be world-leading on the plastic pollution problem, and promises that the UK’s environmental regulations would not fall below those of the EU, the UK has chosen not to legislate the same bans, while being the only European country in the top 10 plastic polluters.

Currently there is a wide variety of approaches proposed by the nations within the United Kingdom in how they plan to legislate.

Northern Ireland is compelled under the Northern Ireland Protocol to have to have transposed ‘certain articles’ of the Directive by 2022 and both Scotland and Wales have proposed bans in their own domestic markets.   

‘Our single-use, throwaway society is causing an environmental catastrophe on a global scale. The government claims to be a leader in tackling plastic pollution, yet is falling behind in the most basic of measures. They need to match EU legislation in banning some of the most harmful single-use plastics, at the very least. At the same time, businesses and food outlets need to step up and expand the refillable and reusable options that people are calling for. Turning away from our disposable culture and embracing reusability is how we can all do our bit to protect the natural world from plastic pollution.’

Senior campaigner at Greenpeace

UK falling behind on plastics

Packaging from take-away food and drinks is a huge cause of plastic pollution and items like plastic cutlery and take-away containers are consistently the most polluting items found on beaches around the world.

New research has revealed that food containers and food wrappers are two of the four most widespread plastic items polluting our rivers, beaches and oceans, together with bottles and bags. 

The open letter to Rebecca Pow MP, states that the government ‘is not only failing to take the lead on tackling plastics but is falling behind our European neighbours and devolved nations within the UK’ if it failed to ban some of the most polluting single-use items like plastic plates and cutlery.

The letter was signed by more than 20 organisations who are calling on the UK government to legislate to at the very least match the ban of items outlined in Article 5 of the EU Single-Use Directive. 

‘The EU’s Single-Use Directive was established as a minimum standard designed to encourage member states to go further in their efforts to tackle plastic pollution. And that is what we are calling for today, the very basic minimum of standards to be met. It’s frankly embarrassing that while other governments are pushing ahead ours is still lagging behind.

‘There is of course more to be done in tackling plastic pollution and some of this will and should be achieved through the Environment Bill. City to Sea have long advocated for the UK to introduce a legally binding target to reduce plastic pollution as part of the Environment Bill. Our ask today  is so much less than that and I honestly can’t believe that we are still having to make the case for this.  If the government fails to meet these minimum standards it would be an awful dereliction of their promises to lead on environmental issues post Brexit.’

City to Sea’s policy manager

No law on single-use plastics

Plastic Free July, a month-long campaign to help people live with less plastic, started on 03 July 2021. This was the date the EU Single-Use Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/904) was scheduled to be incorporated into national law and applied across the European Union.

However, because the UK had not transposed the directive by the end of the transition period the UK is not obliged to incorporate it into law.

The UK has legislated to ban straws, stirrers and cotton buds, which is part of the Directive, but has yet to legislate for a ban on plastic cutlery, plates, sticks attached to balloons or food containers made of expanded polystyrene and products made from oxo-degradable plastics. 
A public petition launched last week, also calling for the UK to implement the ban, received 50,000 signatures in its first few days.

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