Ban on Single Use Cutlery in England - What Businesses Need to Know

As of the 1st October 2023, shops, restaurants and takeaways are no longer permitted to use single-use plastic items, cutlery, balloon sticks and polystyrene cups. This interdiction is part of the government’s plan to phase out single use plastic entirely in an effort to protect the environment. Scotland already introduced this ban back in 2022, and Wales are also passing similar measures this November.

In this article, we’ll take you through what the plastic ban means in detail and the changes you’ll need to make to ensure your business is operating within the law.

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What the plastic ban means for businesses

The ban and restrictions on single-use plastic items came into force on the 1st of October. This means that it is being imposed at the time of writing. The ban stipulates that all single-use cutlery, balloon sticks, polystyrene cups and containers are no longer permitted for sale in England. Single-use plastic plates, trays and bowls are also subject to restrictions, albeit not an outright ban.

Any business owner found in breach of this law could be subject to a fine and even a costly investigation. For effective business management, it’s therefore very important that food vendors ensure they are not violating the rules of the new single-use plastic ban.

What do businesses need to change?

All food establishments, including restaurants, cafes, takeaways and food stalls are affected by the plastic ban. The ruling also applies to online sales as it does to over-the-counter ones, and affects all new and existing stock. Additionally, it applies to all kinds of single-use plastic, even if the plastic items are biodegradable, compostable or made from recycled materials. Finally, the ban includes items that are only partially plastic too, i.e. making up the lining or covering, as long as they are single-use.

As a result of these new measures businesses should ensure they have used up all their single-use plastic by the 1st of October and adjust their operation management to source new reusable alternatives, such as stainless steel cutlery and use more sustainable materials for single-use purposes, such as wooden cutlery for takeaway.

Exemptions to the plastic ban

While this all sounds a little daunting, you might not necessarily have to do away with all single-use plastic immediately. For now, there are a few exemptions to the rule.

For instance, you are still able to supply single-use plastic plates, bowls and trays if they are being supplied to another business or the items are pre-packaged, i.e. filled before being sold. An example of this could be a food establishment that pre-prepares and packages sandwiches and salads for canteens.

Additionally, the ban on polystyrene has some exemptions as well. For example, the material is still permitted when used to supply food and drink that require further preparation before being sold and consumed. A food item in a polystyrene container that needs to be microwaved or toasted would be an example of this.

Single-use plastic alternatives

Plastic cutlery and plates have up till now been the cheapest and most accessible takeaway items. Fortunately, however, there are a number of accessible alternatives for food vendors, including:

  • Paper – for food packaging, takeaway boxes and bags
  • Tin, aluminium and steel – for foil and cans
  • Natural fibres (such as bamboo and coconut coir) – for cutlery, plates and bowls

    Why the plastic ban is important

According to the Government website, people in England use 2.7 billion pieces of single-use cutlery and 721 million single-use plates each year – and only 10% of these items go on to be recycled. This contributes to a huge amount of plastic pollution.

The goal of this ban is therefore to drastically reduce the amount of single plastics used in the country to drive down pollution and help the Government reach its ambitions to eradicate avoidable plastic waste by the year 2042. This is the most recent measure taken, following a 2018 ban on microbeads in cosmetic products and the restriction of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in 2020. Many will also remember the introduction of a charge for plastic carrier bags in supermarkets and shops which led to an impressive 98% reduction in the circulation of plastic bags in England.

Goodbye single-use plastic

The plastic ban is set to have a positive impact on the environment and place the hospitality industry on a path to greater sustainability. However, transitioning away from single-use plastic may be a costly adjustment for businesses in the short-term. Fortunately, investing in good alternatives for cutlery, plates and bowls will set companies up for success going forward. And, in an age of increasing consumer awareness of the environmental impact of organisations, a move away from plastic could be positive for businesses’ bottom lines too.

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