UK single-use plastic ban plan published

Out-Law News | 22 Oct 2018 | 4:36 pm | 2 min. read

Plans to ban the sale and distribution of single-use plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds in England have been outlined by the UK government.

Environment secretary in England, Michael Gove, opened a consultation (21 page / 462.3KB PDF) on the proposals. If approved, the ban would come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020, although it would only apply to England.

The government said around 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds were used in England each year, and an estimated 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets and can end up in waterways and oceans.

Environment secretary in England, Michael Gove, opened a consultation (21 page / 462.3KB PDF) on the proposals. If approved, the ban would come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020, although it would only apply to England.

The government said around 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds were used in England each year, and an estimated 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets and can end up in waterways and oceans.

The consultation includes proposals to allow exemptions from the ban so that those who need straws for medical and accessibility reasons can still get access to them.

Environmental law expert James Nierinck of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said it was notable that the ban was scheduled to be implemented rapidly.

“Today’s proposals are the most recent in a series of steps taken to reduce plastic waste as set out in the government’s 25 year environment plan," Nierinck said. "The most interesting element of the proposed ban is probably the time-frame – this government is considering banning straws, cotton buds and stirrers by October 2019. The exact timing is subject to consultation; however this signals a drive by government to take legislative action quickly.”

“While the bans will be largely welcomed by a more environmentally-conscious public, such bans are a relatively blunt regulatory tool and enforcement will be very challenging across the range of outlets that currently use such plastics,” he said.

According to the consultation document, the government wants views and evidence of the potential additional cost or constraints to business of the ban, the impact on the price per unit of non-plastic alternative products, and predictions on the likely extent of the impact on consumers.

Issues which it is considering include issues relating to the plastics supply chain, for example where cartons of drink with integrated plastic straws are imported from overseas.

The government said it expected that straws would primarily be made from paper if the ban is implemented. It added that prohibiting plastic cotton buds could stimulate innovation by encouraging the production of alternatives that could be composted.

Plastic-stemmed cotton buds would still be available for scientific use, while pharmacies and hospitals would have access to plastic straws for those who need them. Pubs and restaurants would similarly be able to keep a stock of plastic straws to give to customers with specific accessibility or medical needs on an ‘on demand’ basis.

Earlier this year the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it would consult on a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers in England, although this consultation has not yet been opened.

The government has also cracked down on the use of plastic ‘microbeads’ in cosmetics and personal care products, with a ban on the manufacture of products containing microbeads coming into force in January 2018 and a ban on the sale of these products being implemented in June.

Meanwhile a 5p charge for single-use carrier bags in England implemented in 2015 has helped take around nine billion plastic bags out of circulation, according to the government. The Scottish government introduced a similar charge the previous year. In August, the UK government set out plans to extend the plastic bag charge in England to all retailers.