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Life in plastic, not fantastic: extended ban on single-use items comes into force

A further ban on single-use plastics came into force in England on Sunday 1 October 2023.

As of now, certain single-use plastic items are largely prohibited pursuant to The Environmental Protection (Plastic Plates etc. and Polystyrene Containers etc.) (England) Regulations 2023 (“the Regulations”).

Who and what does the ban apply to?

Businesses are no longer permitted to supply or offer single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, balloon sticks, cutlery and certain polystyrene cups and food or drink containers.

All businesses in England supplying these products will be affected. This could include food vendors, retailers, the hospitality industry and care homes. The ban will also impact sales made online as well as over the counter.

The Regulations contain exceptions including items supplied to other businesses or used as packaging in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items which will instead be covered by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ Extended Producer Responsibility. This would notably include, for example, containers filled at the counter of a takeaway and pre-packaged salad bowls or ready meals. There are also specific exceptions for certain products depending on their use and composition.

Why has it been introduced? 

The ban is the government’s response to the Consultation on proposals to ban commonly littered single-use plastic items in England which was open from November 2021 to February 2022 and is part of the government’s effort to reduce littering and minimise plastic waste.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow has explained that the ban is intended to “[help] us on our journey to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042”.

Wheels remain in motion towards environmental targets and policy developments, with commensurate impact to business. This ban forms part of an existing and growing suite of measures including the single-use carrier bag charge, plastic packaging tax (explained by us here) and the ban on the distribution and sale of single-use plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers.

What do I need to do? 

Businesses should ensure that they are prepared to transition to alternative products if they are not already by looking for appropriate suppliers and avoiding unnecessary costs. There has been concern from organisations working with independent businesses that some firms are not aware of the change in law and have therefore not made the necessary preparations. It is imperative that they do so: local authorities will be enforcing the new regulations through their Trading Standards teams and businesses may be fined if they are found to be in breach. Whilst there is potential for appeal within 28 days, there is limited scope for challenge and the expectation will be that all reasonable steps were taken to avoid the breach, which is likely to include preparing ahead of time.

Businesses should also be alert to further changes in the law in this area. There are hopes for a more coordinated approach, with criticism already having been raised by environmental campaigners regarding the piecemeal nature of the introduction of regulations so far.

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