As the Secretary of State responsible for the environment, I have the privilege of overseeing the variety of natural landscapes and habitats this country is blessed with. Plastic pollution is damaging our oceans and landscapes. By using our finite resources more sustainably and facilitating a circular economy, we can improve our biodiversity, reduce carbon emissions, and make our land and oceans cleaner and healthier.
In 2018, we published our 25 Year Environment Plan, which outlines the steps we will take to achieve our ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. This set out our ambition to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
I have watched as we have accelerated towards this goal. In 2018, we brought in one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and introduced a ban on the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. In addition, the use of single-use carrier bags has significantly decreased in the main supermarkets by over 97% with our carrier bag charge. In May 2021, we increased the charge to 10p and extended it to all retailers to build on its success to date and create a level playing field for all businesses.
Now we are going further and introducing new bans on the supply of unnecessary single-use plastic items. These should be viewed in the context of our wider approach to plastic pollution. For instance, in April this year, we brought in the Plastic Packaging Tax, a tax of £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into, the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. This will provide a clear economic incentive for businesses to use recycled plastic in the manufacture of plastic packaging, which will create greater demand for this material. This is a step towards moving away from a take, make, throw model and will push the UK towards a circular economy. Furthermore, our proposals to introduce modulated fees based on the recyclability of packaging through our Extended Producer Responsibility proposals will incentivise producers to use packaging and packaging materials that can be recycled.
We recognise that plastic pollution is a global issue that cannot be solved by one country alone. As such, the UK was proud to support the ambitious resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly that kickstarted negotiations for a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. The consequences of every country’s behaviour are seen and felt across the world and through the introduction of these bans we intend to demonstrate the UK’s continued commitment to shifting the tide on plastic pollution.
Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- The government is committed to leaving our environment in a better state than we found it and protecting it for future generations. The 25 Year Environment Plan and the Resources and Waste Strategy for England outline the steps we will take to achieve that, including eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
- There are times when a ban is appropriate as part of a wider strategic approach, which is why we banned microbeads in rinse-off personal care products in 2018 and restricted the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds in 2020.
- In November 2021, we launched a consultation on our proposals to ban the supply of single-use plastic plates, cutlery, and balloon sticks and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drinks containers.
- We received 53,329 responses to the consultation including 51,462 responses by a campaign hosted by 38 Degrees and City to Sea and 1,867 responses through the survey on GOV.UK and by email. Annex A provides a breakdown of the respondents to the consultation by email and the survey on GOV.UK.
- The way that data was collected through the survey on GOV.UK meant it was not possible to incorporate the responses received by 38 Degrees and City to Sea in our analysis of the responses received by email and through the survey on GOV.UK. Annex B includes a short report analysing these responses separately. Views received by all routes have been taken into account in the development of this policy.
- Responses from members of the public and non-governmental organisations demonstrated overwhelming support for our proposals, with 95% in favour of all bans. Responses from businesses varied, with approximately 20% opposing all bans, while others were supportive of the proposals but highlighted areas for further consideration to make sure the bans do not have unintended consequences. (For the purposes of this government response, businesses are grouped as those respondents who indicated they most aligned themselves or their organisation with either the retail industry or the manufacturing industry.)
- Having analysed the responses received, we will introduce legislation (subject to completion of parliamentary processes) banning the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drinks containers, including cups, in England from October 2023.
- The bans will be enforced principally through civil sanctions set out in regulations using powers in Part 3 of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. This is consistent with the approach to enforcement taken in The Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020. Our expectation is that enforcement authorities will apply civil sanctions in the first instance; however, a failure to comply with a civil sanction, or repeated breaches, may result in authorities prosecuting for a criminal offence subject to a fine.
Detail of policy decisions
Definition of plastic
In the consultation we proposed defining plastic as a material consisting of polymers to which additives or other substances may have been added, and that can function as a main structural component of final products, with the exception of natural polymers that have not been chemically modified. Please see Annex C for the full definition. The majority of respondents (83%) agreed with the definition of plastic we proposed. Some respondents commented they did not fully understand the definition.
So, we will include a layperson’s definition in forthcoming guidance to improve clarity for the public.
Not all respondents provided the reasoning behind their disagreement, which was the case throughout responses to this consultation. One concern raised was the lack of consistency with the definition of plastic used for the Plastic Packaging Tax. However, other respondents supported the definition because it was consistent with the definition used in the Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020 and pointed to the benefits of a consistent definition across Britain. Our proposed definition is consistent with the definition used by the Scottish Government in the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021. We believe it is important to have a consistent definition across regulations that regulate the same category of products, as this will provide consistency for businesses.
So, we will proceed with the definition we consulted on.
Items in scope of the ban
We proposed banning the supply of the following single-use items in England:
- plastic plates
- plastic cutlery
- plastic balloon sticks
- expanded and extruded polystyrene food containers
- expanded and extruded polystyrene beverage containers, including cups
The majority of respondents supported a ban on the proposed single-use plastic items. Some raised the concern that banning these items would see a shift to other single-use items and urged the government to do more to tackle single-use culture.
Part of our intention with this ban is to work towards the government’s ambition from the 25 Year Environment Plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. We would like to see a shift away from single-use items of all materials to reusable or refillable alternatives where possible. Where this isn’t possible, the items should be recyclable. Indeed, in the call for evidence that was published alongside this consultation, we scoped out views on how this could be achieved.
We asked whether the ban should include plastic bowls and trays as well. This was a more popular proposal than the ban including only plastic trays or plastic trays and plastic bowls. Overall, 93% of respondents agreed with the inclusion of plastic bowls and trays.
We asked whether to exclude single-use plastic plates used as packaging or single-use plastic plates used as packaging except those used in eat-in settings from the scope of the ban.
Many businesses questioned the need to include bowls and trays in the ban if they were then going to be exempted when used as packaging. Some stated that introducing a ban on single-use items was not appropriate in light of the changing framework on packaging.
In response to our proposal that the exemption for items used as packaging would not apply in ‘eat-in settings’, several businesses provided feedback that this would lead to confusion, complications for staff and potentially increased waste. For example, one organisation commented that not all eat-in settings would be compatible with re-usable plates due to the requirement for more staff, decreased profitability and more space for washing and storage.
In addition, some organisations sought clarity over what is meant by ‘eat-in’ settings. They stated that meals sold through vending machines and micro-markets must be in a plastic container if they are to be reheated, which is different to a restaurant situation where meals could be provided on a reusable plate if it were eaten on the premises. Also, some businesses commented that there were a lack of viable replacements for plate and bowl type packaging.
We received feedback from businesses, including packaging manufacturers, that without further clarification about what is meant by extruded polystyrene, we would inadvertently bring a much wider range of products into scope of the ban than intended. As such we propose to include in guidance the following clarification of what we mean by expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drinks containers:
Part 1: Polystyrene is a polymer made from styrene monomers that can be used in a vast array of applications. Only polystyrene that has been through a foaming process will be considered in the scope of this ban. Foaming in this context should be considered a method of expansion of the material at any point during its manufacture, by any means (such as heat from steam, expansion during cooling etc.), using any blowing agent (such as butane, pentane, propane etc.). For clarity, we consider products made from polystyrene that has been expanded prior to fusion to be Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) products. Those products made from polystyrene that has first been extruded, then expanded are considered to be Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) products. Further information can be found in Annex D.
Part 2: ‘Food and drinks containers’ in this instance are those used to contain food or drink that is ready to be consumed without further preparation (such as takeaways). It is not our intention to ban polystyrene boxes used to transport unprocessed or unprepared food through the supply chain. For example, polystyrene boxes used by fishers to store and transport freshly caught fish are not in scope.
To be included in the ban, the products must satisfy ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’.
In light of the responses received, we have made the following decisions:
- We will be introducing a ban on the supply of single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, and single-use expanded and extruded polystyrene containers (see definition above), including cups.
- The ban on ‘cutlery’ will include single-use plastic knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks made of plastic, including standard size or mini-size cutlery or a combination of cutlery, such as sporks.
- There will be a ban on the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, and bowls. We are concerned that if they are not included, we will simply see a switch from using single-use plastic plates to bowls and trays rather than reusable alternatives.
- The ban on the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, and bowls will not apply to plates, trays, and bowls that are used as packaging, in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items as defined in The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 regulation 3(b) (such as bowls and platters in a frozen meal). This is to avoid duplication or confusion with our proposals for an extended producer responsibility scheme (EPR) for packaging. For clarity, plastic plates, bowls, and trays that are used as packaging can be used in eat-in and takeaway settings. However, we strongly encourage businesses to explore how they can reduce the use of these single-use items and move to reusable alternatives instead.
- The ban on the supply of plastic bowls and trays that are not packaging will be a ban on supply to the end user. This will allow businesses to purchase empty plates, bowls, and trays to use only as packaging for food; however, individuals will not be able to purchase these items.
Type of plastic
In our consultation, we proposed that the ban on these items should cover all bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastic. This position is consistent with previous restrictions on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, where no such exemptions were given to these materials.
Some respondents highlighted they were unsure as to why bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics were proposed as in-scope for the bans, with a number asking for more clarity in this regard. A few responses also questioned the proposed bans on compostable plastic applications in closed-loop environments.
The significant majority of respondents, however, agreed with this proposal – 78% for plastic plates and cutlery, 79% for EPS food and beverage containers, and 81% for plastic balloon sticks.
Bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics are still plastics. Depending on the polymer, bio-based feedstocks can be used to produce the same plastics as conventional fossil-based feedstocks.
Generally, biodegradable and compostable plastics are not designed for reuse and are therefore inherently single-use in nature. Additionally, there is currently a lack of evidence these materials consistently breakdown in real world environments, as advertised, so may be a source of plastic and microplastic pollution.
Compostable plastics must be sent to an industrial composter for them to compost, so if littered in the open environment they will act much like any other plastic. In addition, because they are visibly indistinguishable from non-compostable plastics, even when they are sent to industrial composters there is no guarantee that they will not be stripped out at the start of the process and sent to landfill or incineration plants. As noted in the responses to a previous government call for evidence on this topic, there is currently insufficient industrial composting capacity in England to fully manage compostable plastic, so it would not be viable to exempt this material, risking improper treatment. While some instances – for which compostable plastics are treated correctly – may exist, the capacity to justify an exemption is not proportionate.
So, these bans will cover items made from plastic that is bio-based, biodegradable or compostable.
We asked if any exemptions should be made to these regulations. While the majority of respondents did not suggest the need for exemptions (80%), a number of suggestions for exemptions were put forward.
Respondents suggested the need for possible exemptions in healthcare settings, educational establishments, and prisons. However, many of the respondents were offering potential avenues for consideration rather than providing a specific example, or examples, based on relevant experience. Based on a combination of responses from the relevant organisations and post-consultation engagement, we were able to determine that no exemptions were needed in any of these settings.
Also, some respondents suggested the need for exemptions for single-use plastic plates and cutlery for those with physical disabilities or mental health conditions. However, many of these responses tended to be anecdotal or suggestions for consideration, rather than clear requests from organisations or charities representing people with disabilities or mental health conditions. By contrast, when we consulted on banning single-use plastic straws, many organisations and charities responded with clear, precise requests for medical exemptions.
Nevertheless, we sought to engage with representative organisations and charities post-consultation and did not receive any further information from these organisations indicating that exemptions for those with physical disabilities or mental health conditions are required.
So, we do not propose to include any exemptions to this ban.
Timing of the ban
We asked whether April 2023 would give industry sufficient time to prepare for the proposed bans. Overall, 78% of respondents agreed with our proposal for the bans to come into force from April 2023.
In their responses, many members of the public and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) called for the bans to be introduced earlier. Many of these responses reflected concerns about plastic pollution. While we bore these responses in mind, it was also important to consider the views of respondents from industry, as they were likely to be best informed about whether April 2023 was sufficient time for their preparations.
Most retailers (67 to 73%; the question was asked by item and the range of percentages reflects the lowest and highest item) and many manufacturers (44 to 56%) felt confident that they could meet April 2023, as long as sufficient notice was given to make sure they could use up stock and were not forced to throw away unused stock. Some responses pointed to the existence of similar policies in other countries and suggested that many businesses would have been aware of the policy direction and may have already begun transitioning away from single-use plastic items.
Responses from businesses that felt April 2023 did not give enough time to prepare included the concern that there would not be enough time to ensure a consistent supply of alternatives without a significant price increase. Other responses additionally stated that industry would need the certainty of legislation being passed before making significant investment in new production lines or sourcing alternative products.
While many businesses have begun to phase out the sale of these items, as similar bans have been introduced in Europe and Scotland, we are mindful of increased challenges facing businesses, which had not arisen when we consulted. Therefore, to allow businesses more time to prepare, we will introduce these bans in October 2023. This consultation response should enable businesses to begin preparing now rather than waiting for legislation to be passed.
As such, businesses should prepare for the ban to apply in full, from October 2023. The Government’s intention is to bring the bans into force on 1 October, subject to Parliamentary approval.
We consulted on a number of the assumptions that we have used in our Impact Assessments of the bans, receiving responses from the public, industry, public bodies and NGOs. As a result of these responses, we have been able to confirm some of the assumptions used and update others with stronger evidence, improving our approach to modelling the impact of banning these single-use plastics.
Based on the consultation responses, we kept our assumptions on domestic production the same. We assumed that 95% of EPS food and beverage containers are produced in Britain and 10% of plastic plates and cutlery are produced in Britain.
Table showing the proportion of responses to Q16 and Q17 that agree or disagree with our assumptions on domestic production
|Plastic plates and cutlery||16%||3%||81%|
|EPS food and beverage containers||13%||4%||83%|
In our consultation stage Impact Assessment, we assumed that the average single-use item travels 62 miles from supplier to destination. However, through the consultation we received numerous responses from industry suggesting a higher mean distance of 162 miles. Based on this response, we have updated our modelling to account for a longer mean journey time travelled by items, affecting our additional fuel costs to business calculation.
Respondents to the consultation were asked whether they agreed, disagreed or were unsure of our assumption of 30 minutes familiarisation time with the legislation. The answers were not clear cut: 32% agreed, 10% disagreed, and 57% either did not know or did not answer. As a result, we did not significantly change this assumption, but just updated the 30 minutes familiarisation time in the EPS analysis to be consistent with the analysis in the plates and cutlery Impact Assessment where we assumed on average 45 minutes of familiarisation time.
There were several assumptions that we consulted on but did not receive sufficient supporting evidence to use in our updated modelling. Instead, we have procured market data to update our baseline assumptions on current consumption of the single-use items, share of the market represented by the items and to inform our future trends expectations. This includes improving our assumption on the volume of EPS food and beverage containers consumed in England, which is now based on sales data as opposed to as a proportion of all food and beverage containers consumed. This amendment also reflects industry feedback received during our consultation period. We have also updated our assumptions on the cost of the single-use items consulted on, to more accurately reflect current prices. Finally, we have updated several of our end-of-life assumptions using the latest data from the government’s Local Authority statistics.
Overall, these updates, informed by the consultation responses, engaging with industry and additional evidence gathering will enable more accurate analysis of the impact of the proposed bans. These updates will be in our final Impact Assessments which are to be submitted to the Regulatory Policy Committee for formal opinions.
Annex A: Breakdown of respondents to the consultation by email and survey on GOV.UK
The breakdown of respondents to the consultation by email and the survey on GOV.UK is as follows:
|Member of general public||1,514 (81.1%)|
|Manufacturing industry||40 (2.1%)|
|Public body||103 (5.5%)|
|Retail industry||33 (1.8%)|
|Resource Management||1 (0.1%)|
|Not answered||8 (0.4%)|
Annex B includes a detailed breakdown of responses received from each of the categories above.
Annex B: Analysis of responses received by 38 Degrees and City to Sea
Percentage of respondents who agreed with banning single-use plastic items in England
|Single-use item||Percentage of respondents who agree with ban|
|EPS food containers||98%|
|EPS drinks containers||98%|
On average, 97% of 38 Degrees and City to Sea respondents agreed with proposals to ban single-use plastic items.
Percentage of respondents who agree or disagree with government proposals to include bio-based, compostable, and biodegradable plastics in the ban
|Response||Percentage of respondents|
|Do not know||24 %|
61% of 38 Degrees and City to Sea respondents agreed with the proposal to include biodegradable, compostable, and biodegradable plastic in the scope of any ban. 15% disagreed and 24% did not know.
Respondents views on whether to ban or allow plastic plates, bowls and trays that are classed as ‘packaging’
|Response||Percentage of respondents|
|We should ban all plastic plates including where classed as ‘packaging’||87%|
|We should allow plastic plates used as ‘packaging’ except in eat-in settings||7%|
|We should allow all plastic plates used as ‘packaging’||1%|
87% of 38 Degrees and City to Sea respondents felt government should ban all plastic plates, bowls, and trays, including those that were used as packaging.
7% felt plastic plates should continue to be used as packaging except in eat-in settings, and 1% felt plastic plates should continue to be used as packaging. 5% of respondents did not know.
Percentage of respondents who work for or own a business that will be affected by the ban
When asked if they worked for or owned a business that will be affected by the ban:
- 3% of respondents said yes
- 97% of respondents said no
Percentage of respondents who support exemptions from the proposed bans
|Item||Percentage of respondents who support exemption|
|EPS food containers||2%|
|EPS beverage containers||2%|
|Exemption for no items||88%|
88% of 38 Degrees and City to Sea respondents did not support there being any exemptions for the proposed ban on single-use plastic items.
A total of 22,316 respondents answering this question, which supplied a range of responses including:
- “Food trucks would have to find alternative ways to serve their food e.g., plates. This could have an economical [cost] increase for their business.”
- “Yes - if there are medical or disability-related reasons, the ban should not apply.”
- “No. Where there is a ban on a harmful item of convenience there are innovative people who are willing to get past the most convenient solution to a solution that works for communities and the planet.”
- “On the whole, people will have shown that they can adopt perfectly acceptable alternative behaviours, but they just need encouragement to make these changes. Unavailability is a huge encouragement! I can see that there may be circumstances where these items may be deemed essential, but they should be few.”
Percentage of respondents who agree or disagree with government proposals to implement the ban from April 2023
|Response||Percentage of respondents|
|Disagree - should be sooner||63%|
|Disagree - should be later||2%|
35% of 38 Degrees and City to Sea respondents agreed that the ban should be implemented from April 2023.
63% of respondents thought this should be sooner and 2% of respondents thought it should be later.
“Apart from a ban, are there any other approaches that the government should consider for tackling single-use plastic?”
A total of 24,318 responses were received for this question. Examples quotes from the responses are as follows:
- “More water foundations [sic] so we move away from single use plastic bottles. More businesses offering a small discount if you bring your own cup.”
- “Encourage the big supermarkets to reconsider all packaging used and to use the minimum rather than the overpacking we have at present. If coffee can be in just a bag, why does tea need a bag and a box?”
- “Better recycling facilities and more availability to do this. Even helping the recycling companies and companies that produce environmentally friendly products with incentives or subsidies to help them instead of fossil-fuel companies and companies that use their products.”
- “Paying for people to return those items, for example plastic bottles that are recycled. This would get rid of the waste as more items would be recycled and not just thrown away and people would be incentivised to do it because they would be paid to do it. This already happens in some countries overseas.”
- “Fine more people for littering in general and using unnecessary plastics when there is an alternative. Do not use plastic single use items in school and more education regarding this.”
- “Taxing them without them being allowed to pass the cost to the customer. Also being forced to recycle AT LEAST the same amount of single use plastic as they place on the market.”
Annex C: Definition of a plastic consulted on
A “polymer” means a substance consisting of molecules characterised by the sequence of one or more types of monomer units. Such molecules must be distributed over a range of molecular weights wherein differences in the molecular weight are primarily attributable to differences in the number of monomer units.
A polymer comprises the following:
(a) a simple weight majority of molecules containing at least three monomer units that are covalently bound to at least one other monomer unit or other reactant;
(b) less than a simple weight majority of molecules of the same molecular weight.
In the context of this definition a “monomer unit” means the reacted form of a monomer substance in a polymer.
A polymer can also contain additives necessary to preserve the stability of the polymer and impurities deriving from the manufacturing process. These stabilisers and impurities are considered to be part of the substance.
Natural polymers are understood as polymers which are the result of a polymerisation process that has taken place in nature, independent of the process with which they have been extracted. Plastics manufactured with modified natural polymers, or plastics manufactured from bio-based, fossil or synthetic starting substances are not naturally occurring and would therefore be in scope of the regulations.
‘Not chemically modified’ means a substance whose chemical structure remains unchanged, even if it has undergone a chemical process or treatment, or a physical mineralogical transformation, for instance to remove impurities.
Annex D: Further information on expanded and extruded polystyrene products
Two examples of manufacturing methods have been simplified and outlined below: one for expanded polystyrene (EPS) and one for extruded polystyrene (XPS). These are illustrative examples for guidance only and should not be understood to be demonstrative of the only processes of producing polystyrene products to which this ban refers. The point of foaming is highlighted in each case.
Example 1: Expansion (foaming) prior to fusion (EPS)
- Expandable polystyrene beads.
- Beads impregnated with blowing agent.
- Beads heated in a steam chamber to allow for bead expansion (foaming).
- Expanded beads pumped into product moulds.
- Mould is heated to fuse beads.
- Item released from mould.
Example 2: Extrusion prior to expansion (foaming) (XPS)
- Polystyrene nurdles.
- Granules passed through extruder to melt and for the addition of a blowing agent.
- Polystyrene passed out of extruder, the reduced pressure and cooling allows for expansion (foaming).
- Polystyrene sheet formed into product shape.
- Polystyrene item cut from sheet.
Generally, the density of EPS materials is lower than that of XPS. Additionally, the structure of EPS may be made from beads, which themselves have a closed cell structure but then have voids between each discrete cell. Alternatively, XPS takes on a closed cell structure throughout.