How Will the New Ban on Single-Use Plastic Items Affect Businesses in England?
by Tom Townsend
Grabbing a plastic fork to eat lunch on the go is now a thing of the past, as the government’s new single-use plastic ban has come into force this week.
October 1 saw a ban that means businesses can no longer supply, sell or offer some of the most polluting single-use plastic items in England.
Such items include online and over-the-counter sales and supply, items from new and existing stock, all types of single-use plastic (including biodegradable, compostable and recycled) and items wholly or partly made from plastic, including coating or lining.
Businesses were given the strict October 1 deadline to use up existing stock, source suitable alternatives and different materials to single-use items, or else be faced with a fine.
So, which single-use plastic items are included in the new ban?
Banned items include plates, bowls, trays, cutlery, balloon sticks, and polystyrene food and drink containers (including polystyrene cups).
However, there are some key exceptions to the rule which makes some items exempt from the latest announcement, including single-use plastic plates, bowls and trays – provided they are being supplied to another business or the items are packaging (pre-filled or filled at the point of sale, such as a pre-filled salad bowl or a plate filled at a takeaway counter).
Another exemption is where food and drink are supplied in polystyrene containers and further preparation is required prior to consumption, such as microwaving or adding water.
What happens to businesses that don’t comply with the new plastic ban?
Businesses not adhering to the new rules could be reported by consumers to Trading Standards. Local authorities will also carry out inspections to make sure the rules are being followed across the country, which will include inspectors making test purchases, speaking to staff and requesting to see records.
If a business is seen to be breaking the law, inspectors can order the firm in question to cover the cost of the investigation.
What impact does single-use plastic create for our environment?
Plastic pollution takes hundreds of years to break down and is hazardous for our ocean, rivers and land. It also generates greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), throughout its journey from production and manufacture to disposal at the end of its life.
Research shows consumers use 2.7 billion items of mostly plastic single-use cutlery in England and 721 million single-use plates every year, but only 10 per cent of these are recycled.
To fully appreciate the sizable statistic, if the 2.7 billion pieces of cutlery were lined up, they would go round the world more than eight-and-a-half times.
Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister, said: “This new ban is the next big step in our mission to crack down on harmful plastic waste. It will protect the environment and help to cut litter – stopping plastic pollution dirtying our streets and threatening our wildlife.
“This builds on world-leading bans on straws, stirrers and cotton buds, our single-use carrier bag charge and our plastic packaging tax, helping us on our journey to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.”
Tom Townsend, Principal Consultant - Sustainable Business UK at Acre said: “It is positive to see further action being taken to ban certain single-use plastic items as the country gears up towards a net zero future.
“However, it is only a small step towards taking urgent action and there is, as always, plenty of room for improvement. I would also like to see a full ban on items such as balloons – rather than just the plastic sticks that hold them – they pose a hazard to wildlife and take approximately 450 years to break down.
“Even biodegradable balloons can take up to six years to decompose and I think there are other, more sustainable ways to celebrate occasions. That said, I am, however, pleased to see the elimination of single-use plastic items in this latest announcement, and the subsequent impact of that ban.”
If you have any questions about what the new rules mean for your business, contact Plastics.Consultation@defra.gov.uk.
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