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Single-use plastics ban

A range of polluting single-use plastics will be banned in England from October 2023 following government's consultation
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A stack of pink plates and a pink bucket filled with forks and knives made from single-use plastic

A range of polluting single-use plastics will be banned in England, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has announced today (14 Jan).

The ban has been described as ‘far reaching’ by the government, but campaigners at Greenpeace warn it is simply ‘nibbling around the edges of a giant problem’.

The ban will include single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers.

It will be introduced from October 2023, allowing businesses time to prepare.

You can help turn off the plastics tap by buying plastic-free products from the My Green Pod Marketplace. Click here to browse and buy all products – from food and fashion to cleaning and beauty – that are free from plastics.

Plastics in the UK

According to estimates, England uses 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery — most of which are plastic — and 721 million single-use plates per year, but only 10% are recycled.

If 2.7 billion pieces of cutlery were lined up they would go round the world over eight and a half times (based on a 15cm piece of cutlery).

From October, people won’t be able to buy these products from any business – including retailers, takeaways, food vendors and the hospitality industry.

‘This announcement is really just nibbling around the edges of a giant problem. Banning items one by one might produce nice headlines for the government but the reality is it won’t stem the staggering amount of plastic the UK produces each year. That’s only going to happen with a serious strategy to cut plastic production. 

‘As part of this the government needs to announce reuse targets that mean supermarkets have to follow suit, offering reuse and refill solutions to their customers that eliminate the need for disposable packaging.

‘It urgently needs to end the export of waste overseas, which has led to open dumping in countries like Turkey. We also need Defra to end its culture of dither and delay and finally bring in the long promised bottle return scheme which will stop billions of bottles and containers being dumped each year. Anything less fails to live up to the scale of the plastics crisis.’

Plastics campaign lead at Greenpeace UK

Plastics and the environment

According to the the government’s response, published today (14 Jan), over 95% of those who responded to the government consultation were in favour of the bans.

Plastic pollution takes hundreds of years to break down and inflicts serious damage to our oceans, rivers and land.

It is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, from the production and manufacture of the plastic itself to the way it is disposed.

‘We all know the absolutely devastating impacts that plastic can have on our environment and wildlife. We have listened to the public and these new single-use plastics bans will continue our vital work to protect the environment for future generations.

‘I am proud of our efforts in this area: we have banned microbeads, restricted the use of straws, stirrers and cotton buds and our carrier bag charge has successfully cut sales by over 97% in the main supermarkets.’

Environment secretary

Impact of government bans

It is expected that banning these items will have a significant impact in reducing plastic waste and littering in England. Plastic cutlery, for instance, was in the top 15 most littered items in the country by count in 2020.

Previous bans, such as banning straws, stirrers and cotton buds, have reduced the damage from these plastics.

Before these products were banned, it was estimated that straws, stirrers and cotton buds collectively contributed to around 5.7% of marine litter.

After the ban, the Great British Beach Clean 2021 reported cotton bud sticks had moved out of the UK’s top 10 most common beach litter items.

‘Plastic is a scourge which blights our streets and beautiful countryside and I am determined that we shift away from a single-use culture.

‘By introducing a ban later this year we are doubling down on our commitment to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste. We will also be pressing ahead with our ambitious plans for a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and consistent recycling collections in England.’

Environment minister

Future measures to tackle litter

The government is also considering further measures around other commonly littered and problematic plastic items, including wet wipes, tobacco filters and sachets, following the call for evidence on this issue.

Future steps that could be explored include banning plastic in these items, and mandatory labelling on packaging to help consumers dispose of these items correctly.

A new research project will also look into the impact of wet wipes on blockages in the sewage system, and will inform any future policy actions.

The ban will not apply to plates, trays and bowls that are used as packaging in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items, as these will be included in government plans for an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme, which will incentivise producers to use packaging that can be recycled and meet higher recycling targets.

‘We are in full support of this announcement by Defra, which marks important progress in the wholesale removal of problematic and unnecessary plastics that can end up as plastic pollution.

‘WRAP is working with UK businesses to meet ambitious targets in this important area, and our latest results show an 84% reduction in problematic and unnecessary single use plastics by our UK Plastics Pact members since 2018.

‘We’re delighted to see these efforts being backed up by regulation, which will accelerate efforts to keep plastic out of the environment.’

Interim CEO of WRAP

A timeline of action on plastics

These plans build on previous efforts to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.

One of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products was announced in 2018.

2020 saw restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds.

The Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022 – introduced a tax of £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK, that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic.

Following the success of the 5p single-use carrier bag charge, in May 2021 the minimum charge was increased to 10p and extended to all retailers, taking billions of bags out of circulation.

Through the Environment Act, the government is bringing in further measures to tackle plastic pollution and litter.

This includes a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers to recycle billions more plastic bottles and stop them being landfilled, incinerated or littered via a small deposit on drinks products to incentivise people to recycle, and plans for Consistent Recycling Collections for every household and business in England.

Plastic pollution is a global issue; the UK government is supporting the United Nations Environment Assembly resolution that kickstarted negotiations for a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution.

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