Single use plates and cutlery to be banned in England

10, January 2023

Single-use items like plastic cutlery, plates and polystyrene trays will be banned in England, the government confirmed in January.

DEFRA says the ban will come into effect in October 2023 – it follows similar moves by Scotland and Wales (see below).

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said the move would help protect the environment for future generations.  Government figures suggest that 1.1 billion single-use plates and more than four billion pieces of plastic cutlery are used in England every year.  Plastic waste often does not decompose and can last in landfill for many years.

The confirmation of the move from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) follows a long consultation.  Each person in England uses an average of 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 items of plastic cutlery every year, according to Defra, while just 10% of those are recycled.

Ms Coffey is set to ban a range of single-use plastic items mainly relating to takeaway food and drink.  “I am determined to drive forward action to tackle this issue head on. We’ve already taken major steps in recent years – but we know there is more to do,” she said.

“This new ban will have a huge impact to stop the pollution of billions of pieces of plastics and help to protect the natural environment for future generations.”

DEFRA has confirmed that the ban will not apply to plates, trays, and bowls that are used as packaging in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items (these will be included in their plans for an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme). This would, for example, include pre-packaged salad bowls and bowls filled with food at the counter of a takeaway.

The Department added a reminder: “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”.

Single-use plastic straws, stirrers and plastic stemmed cotton buds were banned in England in 2020.

Bans in Scotland and Wales

Scotland was the first nation to prohibit problematic plastics when it introduced a ban on businesses using a range of single-use plastic goods in June last year (2022). The ban applies to the following single-use items: plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks), plates, straws, beverage stirrers and balloon sticks; food containers made of expanded polystyrene; and cups and other beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, including their covers and lids. 

At the end of 2022, the Welsh Parliament passed a law banning a long list of plastic goods, including plates, cutlery, drinks stirrers, drinking straws and polystyrene cups.  The law also bans polystyrene takeaway food containers, plastic stemmed cotton buds and balloon sticks.

While Wales was the last country in Great Britain to act on single use plastic, the Welsh ban goes further than both countries, prohibiting the supply of single-use carrier bags and oxo-degradable products.

The Welsh government has said the earliest some provisions can be commenced is autumn 2023; they have also explained that some provisions may be delayed until 2026 to ensure appropriate consultation and engagement.

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