Government in talks to ban single-use plastics

The UK Government is in the process of considering the introduction of a ban on polluting plastics across England, Environment Secretary, George Eustice, has announced.

If successful, the bid to eliminate plastic waste will see single-use plates; cutlery; expanded and extruded polystyrene; and food and beverage containers being phased out. The recent proposals, which were drawn up after 12 weeks of public consultation, state that, in tandem with banning polluting plastics, businesses and consumers would be prompted to make use of sustainable alternatives.

Single-use plasticsThe call to prohibit the use of the material comes after the discovery that only 10 per cent of the 1.1 billion single-use plates and 4.25 billion single-use items of cutlery used in England annually are recycled. Beyond simply banning the use of plastics, in order to tackle the issue of needless disposal at landfill, the Government is considering future policy measures such as the implementation of mandatory labelling on packaging to ‘help consumers dispose of these items correctly.’

In his address, Eustice also stated that the Government is launching a ‘separate call for evidence’, in order to address other sources of plastic pollution. Stakeholders will contribute their views within the forum, providing advice on how best to tackle commonly littered plastics including wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and single-use cups.

In addition to this, the Government asserts that it will be examining the ways in which it can hold manufacturers accountable for their contributions to plastic pollution through ensuring they curb the production of single-use items.

Calls to ban polluting plastics

There has been mounting pressure for the Government to act on the issue of polluting plastics, with voices from across the waste and resource management sectors calling for a ban on single-use items to be enshrined into law. Amongst these appeals was, most recently, a request from the North London Waste Authority (NLWA). Following the publication of the Second National Infrastructure Assessment Baseline Report, the waste management body has called for the Government to ‘urgently implement measures to reduce unsustainable consumption’, including the prohibition of single-use plastics.

Eustice’s announcement also comes after recent restrictions placed upon disposable items in other territories. Back in June, for example, facets of the European Union's Single-Use Plastics Directive came into effect that saw outright bans being applied to some ‘single-use plastic items for which non-plastic alternatives are available’. More recently, in fact, the Scottish Government announced the implementation of similar measures, stating last week (15 November) that certain polluting plastics will be outlawed from 1 June 2022.

The role of the Environment Act in enforcing restrictions

The consultation follows the passage of the Environment Act, which proposes tougher action on single-use plastics, though no outright ban as of yet.

At present, the main power the legislation holds is in its capacity to place charges on polluting plastics, with the call to evidence exploring whether ‘such a charge could be placed on single-use cups or sachets to encourage a shift away from throwaway culture.’

Other measures that the Environment Act will enforce in order to tackle the problem of single-use plastics include:

  • The introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in order to encourage the recycling of single-use plastic packaging and containers
  • The roll-out of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, ensuring producers cover the cost of recycling their single-use packaging
  • The enforcement of a plastic packaging tax from April 2022 – set at £200 per tonne – that will see charges being applied to single-use items which are not made from at least 30 per cent recycled content

Further to this, the waste and resource management sector is following guidance set by the UK Plastics Pact; a governmentally-supported ‘collaboration between businesses from across the entire plastics value chain’, convened by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, commented: “There is growing recognition of the damage that plastics cause to our environment and marine life in particular. We want to reduce the use of plastics in packaging and ban its use in items linked to littering.

“We have already banned plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and now plan to extend the ban to cutlery and balloon sticks where alternative materials, like wood can be used.”

Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP, said: “We welcome the consultation to expand the range of single-use plastic items to be banned in England. Eliminating problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic is essential if we are to turn the tide on plastic pollution and keep plastic out of the environment.

“The UK Plastics Pact set an ambitious target to take action in this important area and its members have already eliminated problematic plastic by more than 40%. We now need regulation to follow and ensure that all businesses take steps to eliminate problematic and unnecessary plastic.”

Steve Hynd, City to Sea’s Policy Manager, said: “Today’s announcement to ban some of the most polluting single-use plastic is hugely welcome. Almost 100,000 people signed our petition earlier this year calling on the Government to take urgent action and we’re pleased to see the public’s concerns being taken seriously.

“There is a long journey ahead in tackling plastic pollution, but this is a positive and important first step.”

David Scott, Corporate Affairs Director at Morrisons, said: “Reducing plastic packaging is one of the top issues our customers care about. We want to help customers live their lives with less reliance on plastic. We’ve already banned many single use plastics across our stores - including plastic plates, cutlery and straws, and we’ve developed recycling systems for soft plastics.

“Only this week we’ve announced we’re building a new soft plastic recycling site here in the UK. So we welcome Defra’s consultation and look forward to working with the whole of the industry on it.”