Far-reaching ban on single-use plastics in England

by | Jan 23, 2023 | News | 1 comment

A range of polluting single-use plastics will be banned from October 2023 following the Government’s consultation

A range of polluting single-use plastics will be banned in England, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has announced on 14 January.

The ban will include single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers. This ban will be introduced from October 2023, allowing businesses time to prepare.

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 – this includes retailers, takeaways, food vendors and the hospitality industry. Over 95% of those who responded to our consultation were in favour of the bans, the Government’s response, published today (Saturday 14 January 2022), reveals.

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.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “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 Minister Rebecca Pow said: “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.”

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 we banned these products, it was estimated straws, stirrers and cotton buds collectively contributed to around 5.7% of marine litter. After our ban, the Great British Beach Clean 2021 reported cotton bud sticks had moved out of the UK’s top ten most common beach litter items.

The Government is also carefully 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 our plans for an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme – which will incentivise producers to use packaging that can be recycled and meet higher recycling targets. For example, this would include pre-packaged salad bowls and bowls filled with food at the counter of a takeaway.

These plans build on our previous efforts to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, including:

  • One of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products announced in 2018
  • Restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds in 2020.
  • Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022 – 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 huge success of the 5p single-use carrier bag charge, in May 2021 we also increased the minimum charge to 10p and extended it 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 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 and we are committed to working with international partners to tackle it. As such, the UK was proud to support the ambitious resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly that kickstarted negotiations for a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution.

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