The UK Government has announced plans to ban single-use plastic plates and cutlery, with a consultation set to be launched in the autumn. The proposed ban follows plans by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to do the same and builds on England’s ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds last year.

Chris Sherrington, Head of Environmental Policy & Economics at Eunomia has carried out several high profile studies which investigate the environmental damage caused by single-use plastics. He has also worked for governments and the European Commission to develop policies designed to reduce marine plastics and litter. Reacting to the government’s proposed ban, he said:

Reduce all single-use items

“It is not just single-use plastics that cause problems – single-use items of any material type should be addressed. In the face of a ban on single-use plastic items, many retailers and outlets will simply switch to non-plastic single-use alternatives. We need to move away from single-use in all forms as a general rule, to address the overconsumption of resources that is making a significant contribution to climate change – and the littering that continues to blight our environment. Our research shows that at least 50% of emissions responsible for climate change are embodied in the things we use, and reducing consumption through promoting reuse has a key part to play.

Enforce the waste hierarchy

“Foodservice businesses should be promoting reusable alternatives in line with the legal requirements of the waste hierarchy. Whether eating in or taking out, consumers should be provided with reusable options, perhaps covered under a deposit return system, or encouraged to bring their own. Where single-use items are available, there should be a requirement for foodservice businesses to charge for these to encourage the uptake of reusable alternatives. By communicating a preference for reusable alternatives, businesses can drive their customers to make sustainable choices.

Falling behind

“It is good to see the government continuing to address the issue of single-use plastic and its impact on our environment, building on the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds last year. But England has plenty of catching up to do with its neighbours, who are already well ahead on plans to ban takeaway plastic plates and cutlery. An EU ban on single-use plastic items including plates and cutlery came into force in July this year and will apply to Northern Ireland, while Scotland and Wales announced plans last year to ban these items. Meanwhile, France started phasing out single-use plastics in January last year. If the government wants to show real leadership on protecting our environment, it needs to pick up the pace with introducing relevant legislation, going beyond the narrow focus on plastic.”

Featured image: Marco Verch via Flickr (Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))