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Single-use plastic cutlery and plates face ban in England

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Single-use plastic items including cutlery and plates are due to be banned in England, as the UK government seeks to curb the problem of waste polluting rivers and seas. 

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey is preparing to announce plans to phase out the items and replace them with biodegradable alternatives in the coming weeks, following similar moves by the Welsh and Scottish governments.

More than 4bn items of cutlery and more than 1bn plates involving single-use plastic are disposed of every year in England. Even though it is possible to recycle these objects, the vast majority still end up in landfill or as litter, as part of the country’s throwaway culture. 

In 2020 the UK government banned single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England.

Then last year ministers launched a consultation into prohibiting several other disposable objects in England, including cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups.

The ban was delayed by political turmoil, but now Coffey is preparing to give the go-ahead to the prohibition, according to government insiders. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that cutting England’s reliance on single-use plastic was crucial.

“We are determined to go further and faster to reduce, reuse and recycle more of our resources in order to transform our waste industry,” it added.

“We will be responding soon to a consultation on further bans of plastic plates, cutlery, balloon sticks and expanded and extruded polystyrene cups.”

The beach at Largo Bay in Fife, Scotland. Only about a tenth of the 300mn tonnes of plastic waste produced globally each year is recycled © Iain Masterton/Alamy

The department is considering how to tackle other items involving single use plastic including wet wipes and tobacco filters.

Only about a tenth of the 300mn tonnes of plastic waste produced globally each year is recycled.

Governments around the world are seeking to tighten restrictions on throwaway plastic items, with pressure growing since broadcaster David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II television series highlighted the problem. 

Plastic materials can last for centuries, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, with damaging consequences for wildlife. 

Last week the Welsh parliament approved legislation that bans almost a dozen products involving single-use plastic from autumn 2023, including cutlery, plates and fast food containers.

Julie James, Welsh climate minister, told the Financial Times that all of the products had non-plastic or reusable alternatives, such as wooden cutlery.

She said the Welsh government had carried out research into the comparative cost of plastic products and their biodegradable alternatives and found only a narrow price differential.

“It’s not a lot more expensive at all, and as people realise how harmful these products are, more alternatives will come on stream at a cheaper price,” added James.

In 2011, Wales was the first UK nation to introduce a single use plastic bag charge of 5p, with Scotland and England later following suit, leading to a big fall in usage.

In June the Scottish government banned various single-use plastic items including cutlery, plates, straws and polystyrene food containers and cups.

But Nina Schrank, senior plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said the action being taken by the UK’s governments was not fast enough.

She added that the UK was still throwing away an estimated 100bn pieces of plastic every year. 

Schrank said the UK government should use its environment bill to bring in legally binding targets to halve single-use plastic by 2025, as well as ban the export of plastic waste.

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