Single-Use Plastic Bans in the UK

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In May 2019, the UK government confirmed plans to introduce a ban and a number of restrictions on the sale and use of several single-use plastic items in England. This is part of the government’s plan to reduce the 5 million tonnes of plastic waste produced in the UK every year. Single-use plastic product consumption in the UK is among the highest in Europe; over 4.5 billion plastic straws, 2 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds and 300 million plastic drinks stirrers are thrown away year after year.

Originally, the ban was set to come into effect in April 2020. However, due to concerns from the government about the reliability of supply for plastic-free alternatives arising from the coronavirus pandemic, the ban has been delayed. October 2020 is now when we can expect the ban to come into action after a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture, known as Defra.

In their statement Defra said, “Given the huge challenges posed to businesses by coronavirus, we have confirmed we will delay the introduction of our ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until October 2020… We remain absolutely committed to turning the tide on the widespread use of single-use plastics and the threat they pose to our natural environment.”

The decision to delay the ban has been met with criticism. Philip Dunne, the Chairman of the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) said, “It is very disappointing that the Government has delayed the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. These items when made from plastic are virtually impossible to recycle, so they end up in landfill or are dumped… The UK is a world-leader in environmental protection. While it is completely understood that the response to coronavirus should dominate Government resources currently, it is crucial that the pandemic does not threaten progress being made with relatively straightforward steps to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”

In Wales, similar regulations are anticipated to come into effect in the first half of 2021. The Welsh government confirmed in March 2020 that it will introduce a single-use plastics ban covering a more extensive list of items than the ban in England. Their ban will include items from a selection of single-use products listed in an EU directive. 

Scotland has already introduced regulations banning the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds, making it the first country in the UK to do so. This was one step of many introduced by Scottish government to move the country in a more ecologically sustainable direction and protect their natural environment. The Scottish ban is set to increase the number of banned items by July 2021, in line with the EU directive that Wales is also following.

The EU directive serving as inspiration for Welsh and Scottish single-use plastic regulations was introduced in May 2018 and voted on by the Council of the European Union in May 2019. The directive added to existing legislation by introducing stricter regulations around plastic use, as well as setting new targets for plastic recovery and recycled content of plastic products. Some of the single-use plastic items included in the directive are: Cups, food containers, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks, sanitary towels, tampons, wet wipes and tobacco products.

Northern Ireland is somewhat behind the rest of the UK with no clear set plans for future bans or restrictions on any single-use plastic items. The last regulation the whole of Northern Ireland introduced was the 5p tax on carrier bags, which has been successful in significantly reducing the number of plastic carrier bags contributing to plastic pollution. However, the council for the Ards and North Down district on the eastern coast of Northern Ireland near Belfast introduced their own local ban on single-use plastics in 2017. The council acted as a response to concerns over the increase in plastic litter recorded in their beach surveys, and they hope that they can lead by example for the rest of Northern Ireland.

Despite delays in England, the UK is set to move away from reliance on single-use plastics towards more sustainable alternatives – such as paper. It is hoped there will be no further delays in England and that Northern Ireland follows the example set by the rest of the UK and Ards and North Down Council in taking steps to reduce the usage of single-use products.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How are paper straws made?

Our paper straws are made by stacking 3 plies of high-quality food grade kraft paper and putting them through a core-winding machine that applies an adhesive and rolls the straws into shape. They are then cut to size, coated in lacquer to ensure quality and are then ready to be sold.

When did paper straws replace plastic straws?

The UK government initially announced that it was going to introduce a ban on plastic straws in April 2020. However, due to the effect of the worldwide pandemic, the government postponed this to October 2020 out of concern that the supply of paper straws would not be able to meet demand.

What are paper straws made of?

We manufacture our paper straws from high-quality food based kraft paper.