Restaurants and cafes across England will soon be banned from using some of the most common single-use plastics – a ban by green groups that is necessary, insufficient and long overdue.
The long-awaited rule, announced on Saturday, prohibits such establishments from selling or distributing certain types of polystyrene cups and food packaging, as well as plastic plates, trays, bowls and cutlery designed to be used once and thrown away. It takes effect in October.
The new policy is “a really positive step in the right direction… but we’re coming late to the party,” said Steve Hynd, head of media and policy for UK environmental organization City to Sea. The 27 members of the European Union have been subject to a bloc-wide directive since July 2021 banning items included in England’s new policy, and several have proposed additional legislation to reduce plastic waste.
With Scotland implemented its own restrictions on single-use plastic plates and cutlery last year and Wales advancing similar legislation, environmental groups said England was “the only country in Europe” without a ban. Last month, they submitted a petition signed by over 118,000 people urging UK policy makers to catch up.
England uses more than 5 billion single-use plates and cutlery each year, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Most are made of plastic and end up incinerated, in landfills or thrown away as waste that leaches hazardous chemicals or breaks down into microplastics that contaminate the food chain. Because they are made primarily from fossil fuels, their production frees up greenhouse gases that warm the planet and disproportionately exposes marginalized communities to Pollution.
Therese Coffey, England’s environment secretary, said in a statement that the new rules would “continue our vital work to protect the environment for future generations”. She touted previous efforts to reduce plastic waste, including a Ban 2020 on straws and drink stirrers made from the material, as well as a tax on single-use grocery bags.
Some conservationists have called on England to clarify whether this latest ban includes bioplastics, as the EU does. These products are made from things like corn, sugar cane, agricultural waste or seaweed. However, they have many of the same problems as conventional plasticswhile raising new ones – the trickiest of which is using land to raise these raw materials rather than food, according to Britta Baechler, associate director of ocean plastics research for the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. .
Beyond that clarification, Hynd said more systemic action is needed to justify England commitment eliminate “unavoidable” plastic waste by 2043. He called for a legally binding target to halve the production of single-use plastic by 2025 and the expansion of systems that encourage reusable alternatives. A deposit program, for example, could incentivize reuse by charging customers a deposit when they purchase a bottled beverage and refunding it when the bottle is returned. (The UK announced it would continue such a program in 2018, but officials said later would not be implemented in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until at least 2024 – partly due to the ongoing economic disruption due to COVID-19.)
Such policies should be seen as an opportunity to create a cleaner UK, Hynd said. He imagines a future in which it is possible to walk through a park without seeing plastic littering the landscape or to sit on a beach without watching it wash ashore. The plastic bans, he said, are just part of a “much larger journey to achieve this vision”.