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New bans and restrictions on polluting single-use plastics come into force

Posted: 02/10/23

Press release from 29 September 2023: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Rebecca Pow MP. To read the full article, click here.

Government action to tackle the scourge of litter and protect the environment from plastic pollution ramps up this weekend (Sunday 1 October), with bans and restrictions on a range of polluting single-use plastic items coming into force.

No business – whether retailer, takeaway, food vendor or part of the hospitality industry – will now be able to sell single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks nor polystyrene cups and food containers in England. The supply of single-use plastic plates, trays and bowls has also been restricted. The new regulations were announced in January and extensive work has taken place throughout 2023 to provide further guidance on the ban for businesses.

Plastic pollution takes hundreds of years to break down and inflicts serious damage on our ocean, rivers and land. It is also a source of greenhouse gas emissions, from its production and manufacture to the way it is disposed.

Research shows people across England use 2.7 billion items of mostly plastic single-use cutlery and 721 million single-use plates every year, but only 10% of these are recycled. If 2.7 billion pieces of cutlery were lined up, they would go round the world more than eight-and-a-half times.

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.”

The Government has engaged closely with industry to support them in getting ready for the new requirements, including by giving them nine months from the publication of its response to the consultation on the ban to prepare and use up excess stock. We have been working closely with relevant trade bodies and local authorities to help businesses and Trading Standards officers be ready for the new rules.

Responses from the public to the consultation on the ban demonstrated overwhelming support, with 95% in favour of all prohibitions. People and businesses want to do the right thing for the environment and banning these items will be a significant help in reducing plastic waste and littering – plastic cutlery, for instance, was in the top 15 most littered items in the country in 2020.

The ban will not apply to single-use plastic plates, trays and bowls 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 less packaging and meet higher recycling targets.

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said:

“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 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. But we must go further, including on plastic packaging on most fruit and vegetables – and help save shoppers money by allowing people to buy what they need.”

The Government has set out plans to drive up the repair and reuse of existing materials and increase recycling, including via the ‘Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste’ programme announced in July. This brings together a range of measures backed by government funding to help keep products and materials in circulation for as long as possible and at their highest value, in turn growing the economy and boosting employment.

The single-use plastics ban is part of the Government’s wider world-leading action to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution and eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. The Government has already 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.

Elsewhere, the Government’s hugely successful single-use carrier bag charge has cut sales in the main supermarkets by more than 98% since its introduction in 2015, taking billions of bags out of circulation.

But there is still more to do, which is why the Government is bringing in a deposit return scheme for drinks containers to recycle billions more plastic bottles and stop them being landfilled, incinerated or littered, alongside plans to simplify recycling collections for every household and business in England.

Through the actions of government, businesses and individuals, we are transitioning away from unnecessary plastics and improving sustainability across the public and private sectors. This shift from single-use items is vital as the Government continues its work to protect the environment for future generations.