Defra releases guidance on UK single-use plastic ban

June 16, 2023

Plastic water bottles on a conveyor.
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In preparation for a ban on certain single-use plastic products that goes into effect on 1 October 2023, the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has released guidance to assist businesses with the transition. Originally announced in January 2023, the ban will apply to all single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, containers, cutlery and balloon sticks, and would prevent businesses in England from supplying, selling, or offering these products to consumers.

England had previously banned single-use plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds in 2020. Plastic cutlery is historically a significant pollutant in England, with estimates that the country uses 4.25 billion items of single-use cutlery every year, while only recycling 10% of that total. The new ban on plastic dishes and cutlery will mean that consumers cannot purchase any of these items from retailers, food vendors, takeaways, or businesses in the hospitality industry. Scotland implemented a similar ban last year, while Wales’s law banning these products was approved in 2022 and will go into effect in late 2023. The European Union also banned single-use plastic plates and cutlery last summer.

How businesses can prepare

In its guidance, Defra shares recommendations for how businesses can prepare for the ban, which include “using up existing stock before 1 October; finding re-usable alternatives to single-use items; and using different materials for single-use items.” Barring a few exemptions, businesses who continue to supply the banned single-use plastics after 1 October could face fines.

While the government points out that many alternatives to these single-use products currently exist, they can be expensive. Bans on single-use plastics are generally popular amongst all stakeholders, but they do tend to put most of the burden on manufacturers and retailers, who must determine new products to use in the place of plastic, or otherwise assume the costs of the continued use of single-use plastic packaging.

Regulations ahead

New innovations in sustainable packaging will continue to emerge, but until they do, manufacturers and retailers should monitor regulations in the markets where they operate and work with their partners throughout the value chain to transition away from single-use plastics as quickly as possible.

This latest ban on single-use plastic products will not be the last. Defra has already closed a call for evidence on a potential ban of commonly-littered plastic items, including wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and single-use cups. Single-use plastic products found in supermarkets or other shops will also be addressed in 2024 as part of the UK government’s plans for an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Scheme. Under this Scheme, packaging producers will be made responsible for paying the full cost of managing packaging once it becomes waste.

As retailers and businesses in the hospitality industry implement the single-use plastic ban ahead of the 1 October 2023 effective date, producers and manufacturers should begin preparing now for the imminent EPR Scheme.

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Tags: environment, Environmental impact, sustainability, sustainable, UK, United Kingdom