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England to ban single-use plastic tableware, replace with biodegradable alternatives

December 30,2022

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Single-use plastic items, including cutlery and plates, will be banned in England as the British government tries to curb the problem of waste polluting rivers and oceans.

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

England handles more than 4 billion pieces of cutlery and more than 1 billion plates involving single-use plastics each year.

 While it is possible to recycle these items, the vast majority still end up in landfills or as trash as part of the country's disposable culture. In 2020, the UK government banned single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton swabs in the UK. Last year, ministers launched a consultation to ban the use of several other disposable items in England, including cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups.

The ban was delayed by political unrest, but now Coffey is preparing to approve the ban, according to government insiders.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it is vital to reduce England's reliance on single-use plastics. "We are determined to go further and faster to reduce, reuse and recycle more to transform our waste industry."

"We will soon be responding to a consultation on a 'further ban on plastic plates, cutlery, balloon tray sticks and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drink containers'." The department is considering how to handle other items involving single-use plastics, including wet paper towels and tobacco filters. Only about one in 10 of the 300 million tons of plastic waste produced globally each year is recycled.

Plastic can last for centuries, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, with devastating consequences for wildlife.

Last week, the Welsh Assembly approved legislation to ban nearly a dozen products involving single-use plastics, including cutlery, plates and fast food containers, starting in the fall of 2023.

Welsh climate minister Julie James told the Financial Times that non-plastic or reusable alternatives, such as wooden cutlery, are available for all products. She said the Welsh government has studied the comparative costs of plastic products and their biodegradable alternatives and found very little difference in price. "It's not expensive at all, and as people become aware of the harmful effects of these products, more alternatives will come into use at a cheaper price," James added.

In 2011, Wales was the first British country to introduce a 5p charge for single-use plastic bags, with Scotland and England later following suit, leading to a significant drop in use. In June, the Scottish government banned the use of a variety of single-use plastic items, including cutlery, plates, straws and polystyrene food containers and cups. But Nina Schrank, a senior plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the British government had not acted fast enough. She added that the U.K. still throws away about 100 billion pieces of plastic each year. Schrank said the British government should use its environment bill to set legally binding targets to halve single-use plastics by 2025 and ban the export of plastic waste.