England faces ban on single-use plastic cutlery, plates and cups

Waste management & recycling updates

Single-use plastic cups, plates and cutlery could soon be banned in England, the government said on Friday, under proposals designed to tackle the country’s throwaway culture, reduce waste and protect the environment.

Ministers will launch a public consultation in the autumn about the prohibition of an array of disposable items, including knives, forks and polystyrene cups, as the government works towards its goal of eliminating all “avoidable” plastic waste by 2042.

“We’ve all seen the damage that plastic does to our environment. It is right that we put in place measures that will tackle the plastic carelessly strewn across our parks and green spaces and washed up on beaches,” said environment secretary George Eustice.

Single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds are already banned in England, while retailers must charge for the use of plastic shopping bags — though that requirement was waived last year for online deliveries to aid rapid food distribution during the coronavirus pandemic.

Disposable plastic items, which are made from fossil fuel-based chemicals, often end up in landfills or littering beaches and oceans. Rather than decompose in the way that food does, the materials can last for centuries, breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces. Although single-use plastics can often be recycled, many towns and cities do not have the correct, or large enough, facilities to collect, sort and process the materials.

On average, people in England use 18 disposable plastic plates and 37 disposable pieces of cutlery each year, the government said on Friday. The full list of single-use items under review and other consultation details will be announced in the coming weeks, it added.

Jo Morley, head of campaigns at environmental group City to Sea, welcomed the plan as “a much-needed move”.

But Greenpeace UK’s head of oceans, Will McCallum, said the government’s “piecemeal” approach to banning individual disposable items “isn’t leadership”. Ministers should set legally binding targets to halve single use plastic by 2025 and ban the export of plastic waste, he said.

Ministers are also planning to introduce a plastic packaging tax from April 2022, set at £200 per tonne on packaging that is not made from at least 30 per cent recycled materials, a plan first announced in the 2018 budget.

Meanwhile, a proposed deposit return scheme for drinks containers, also first announced in 2018, will aim to cut plastic pollution: a small additional charge is added to the price of bottles and drinks, which customers recoup if they return the containers for recycling. However, a recent government consultation about the proposal said the introduction of such a scheme was likely to be “in late 2024 at the earliest”.

“Consultation after consultation suggests the government is more interested in tinkering around the edges rather than seizing the opportunity to tackle plastic waste,” said Sarah McMonagle, head of external affairs at CPRE, the countryside charity. After years of talking about a deposit return scheme, a system should be introduced “by 2023.”

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