Single-use plastic ban means no plastic cutlery or polystyrene cups

‘Next big step’: Single-use plastic ban comes into play in England

Retailers and hospitality companies in England can no longer sell single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, or polystyrene cups and food containers as the single-use plastic ban comes into play.

As of 1 October there are bans and restrictions on a range of what the government described as “polluting single-use plastic items”, meaning retailers, takeaway, food vendor, and hospitality providers are now following new rules.

The new regulations were announced in January 2023, and businesses have had access to further guidance on the single-use plastic ban for several months. As the ban came into force over the weekend, the government said plastic pollution “takes hundreds of years to break down and inflicts serious damage on our ocean, rivers and land”.

Greenhouse gas emissions from plastic’s production and manufacture and how it is disposed were also highlighted as reasons for clamping down on the material’s usage and circulation.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “This new ban is the next big step in our mission to crack down on harmful plastic waste.

“It will protect the environment and help to cut litter – stopping plastic pollution dirtying our streets and threatening our wildlife. This builds on world-leading bans on straws, stirrers and cotton buds, our single-use carrier bag charge and our plastic packaging tax, helping us on our journey to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.”

She added that the government has worked with trade bodies and local authorities to help businesses and Trading Standards officers prepare for the new rules.

The single-use plastic ban does not apply to plates, trays and bowls used as packaging in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items as these are set to be included in the extended producer responsibility scheme aimed at incentivising producers to use less packaging and meet higher recycling targets.

UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls remarked: “Hospitality businesses have made huge strides in reducing their plastic usage and that progress has resulted in the vast majority of venues already eliminating single-use cutlery from their operations, a crucial part of our ambitions to reach net zero.

“We’ve been pleased to work with the government to ensure these new bans and restrictions are also practical for hospitality businesses, all while working towards the nation’s sustainability goals.”

Helen Bird, head of material systems at environmental and waste prevention NGO, Wrap, said: “Single-use plastics dominate our world, and have even become embedded into the planet itself.

“This ban is an important moment in tackling the scourge of plastic pollution. Since 2018, Wrap has worked with businesses under The UK Plastics Pact to eliminate all unnecessary and unrecyclable plastic packaging. Since then, 620 million single use plastic items have been removed from shops.”

The single-use plastics ban comes after the government banned microbeads in rinse-off personal care products in 2018 and restricted the supply of plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds in 2020. The government also introduced the Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022, a tax of more than £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in or imported to the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic.

In addition, there has been a significant reduction in the distribution of carrier bags in shops since a charge for their usage came into play in 2015.

Plastic vs paper

There is significant debate about the use of plastic in retail. Last month, Marks & Spencer (M&S) said it was replacing plastic bags for life in every store with Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper bags at checkouts.

In light of the existing counter arguments, which suggest paper over plastic is not always a better environmental move, M&S opted to break down exactly why it has taken the decision to switch its bag material.

The new paper bags, it said, are water resistant due to a natural resin applied in the manufacturing process, and have been independently tested to withstand over 100 reuses. It suggested they are also more convenient for customers to place in their home recycling bins when worn out – unlike the plastic bags, which typically need to be returned to specific soft plastic recycling units if they are to avoid ending up in landfill.

M&S argued it had debated “the paper vs plastic question” in detail, tasking the University of Sheffield to undertake a “cradle to grave assessment” of the bags to determine which was better.

The university told the retailer if it was to move to paper, it needed to address four factors: the bags had to be responsibly sourced; the packaging needed to be produced with renewable energy as paper can use a lot of energy in production; M&S has to find another use for the plastic collected in stores because it was previoiusly used to make plastic bags for life; and the bags must be capable of being used multiple times – at least ten occasions.

According to M&S, it is meeting these requirements, with the bags sourced from a single hydro-powered paper mill in Scandinavia and plans coming soon on what will happen to the soft plastic currently collected in its stores.

[Image credits: Main image – Green Retail World; Embedded image – M&S]

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