England is going to ban single-use plastic cutlery and single-use polystyrene food containers, following similar initiatives by Scotland and Wales in 2022 that made providing such items an offense. It is estimated that the UK currently uses 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups annually, with England recycling only 10 percent of the 4.25 billion single-use cutlery items and 1.1 billion single-use plates used annually.
These measures will apply to businesses such as takeaways and restaurants, but not supermarkets and shops. This follows a public consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that ran from November 2021 to February 2022. DEFRA is reported to be confirming the move on January 14.
In a document related to the consultation published in November 2021, it is estimated that 80 percent of England’s food and beverage container market is expanded and extruded polystyrene (EPS). The document states that these containers “do not biodegrade or photodegrade and so they accumulate in the environment. EPS items are especially fragile in their physical nature, meaning that once littered these items tend to fragment into smaller pieces and are dispersed into the environment.”
“Single-use plastic cutlery is typically made of a polymer called polypropylene; single-use plastic plates are made of either polypropylene or polystyrene,” another document related to the consultation explains. “Alternative materials decompose quicker – wooden cutlery is estimated [to] decompose in 2 years whereas paper decomposition times vary between 6 to 60 weeks. Items from alternative materials are also less carbon intensive to manufacture (a tonne of wood and paper release 233 kgCO2e [kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent] and 354 kgCO2e per tonne of material used during production, whereas comparative values for polypropylene and polystyrene measure at 1,875 kgCO2e and 2,306 kgCO2e per tonne) and incinerate than plastic”
The single-use utensils are “typically discarded to general waste or littered rather than recycled due to the effort required to segregate and clean them. Even if plastic cutlery are placed in recycling bins, their small size means that they are more likely to fall between recycling machinery and are therefore unlikely to be recycled.”
“The impact assessment considers two options: the ‘do-nothing’ option and the option to ban single-use plastic plates and cutlery in April 2023,” the document continues. However, the measures are set to be introduced in October.
“We've already taken major steps in recent years - but we know there is more to do, and we have again listened to the public's calls," Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said, according to the BBC. "This new ban will have a huge impact to stop the pollution of billions of pieces of plastics and help to protect the natural environment for future generations."