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From October 2023, single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers will be banned at retailers, takeaways, food vendors and the hospitality industry.
The effect on the food industry
The phasing out of these products will prove a challenge for independent retailers and hospitality venues as they are already battling high energy costs and Covid-19 recovery.
According to Megan Adams, owner of Re:Store Refill in Hackney, “In the short term their costs may be impacted by more expensive alternatives, however, as volumes purchased increase, those costs will come down.
“Overall, it needs to be viewed as a holistic shift and more investment into changing consumer behaviour will support this.”
In fact, according to Catherine Conway, founder of Unpackaged, “There are plenty of providers of alternatives that independent delis and cafés can source from.
“However, we would continually advocate for businesses of all sizes to apply the waste hierarchy. Remove any unnecessary single-use packaging, introduce reuse and refill schemes and only then offer single-use disposables (which should be chosen for either recyclability or composting depending on the particular business, the products being sold, the customer use cases and available waste management facilities).”
A positive step forwards
Despite the initial cost, the move has been welcomed by environmental groups.
Speaking in a statement, Therese Coffey, environment secretary, announced, “We all know the absolutely devastating impacts that plastic can have on our environment and wildlife. We have listened to the public and these new single-use plastics bans will continue our vital work to protect the environment for future generations.
“I am proud of our efforts in this area: we have banned microbeads, restricted the use of straws, stirrers and cotton buds and our carrier bag charge has successfully cut sales by over 97% in the main supermarkets.”
But as Megan explained, “Although lagging behind some countries’ actions, it’s a positive step in the right direction. The other positive is that it makes headlines, puts the plastics crisis front of mind for consumers again, and makes them think about the harm that these materials can cause.
“But we do need to stop the production of ‘unnecessary’ (i.e., non-medical) single-use plastics, and not just rely on recycling or other downstream solutions that simply can’t handle the volume. Turning off the tap, as it’s been coined, is going to be the answer to drastically reduce the impact we’re having.”
Further action needed
In fact, according to Sian Sutherland, founder of A Plastic Planet, “If we are to truly tackle the plastic crisis, we must move to solutions including permanent packaging and prefill systems, which will necessitate a true reinvention of our take, make and waste systems.
“So as much as we welcome the proposal to ban certain pointless plastic items, the reality is the UK is following Europe’s lead. Yet again countries like France have acted much faster with a wider impact. The environmental ‘to-do list’ on Rishi Sunak’s desk lengthens every day. There will be no economy for him to nurture if we don’t have a healthy planet.
“Protecting our environment and weaning ourselves off fossil fuels of all kinds – including plastic – is not high on his list and we are already witnessing the results of our inaction with seven extreme weather events happening in 2022 alone. It’s time for the UK to get a grip on what really matters – a safe and habitable planet for mankind.”
Ross Matthewman, head of policy and campaigns at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), agreed, “The impact of single-use plastic on public health is well-documented, therefore while such a move is to be lauded, more really does need to be done.
“We also want to hear from the government about the role environmental health professionals will have in supporting this ban, and what resources the central government will be providing to local authorities to help them in its administration.
“We urge the UK government to introduce a detailed plastic reduction strategy and would welcome the opportunity to engage in producing such a strategy for the good of public health and environmental protection.”
As Catherine concluded, “Alongside any ban, we need a holistic strategy to reduce single-use plastic packaging and shift towards reuse and refill. This should include targets to reduce single-use packaging, increase reusable packaging; and use ring-fenced monies from Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes to invest in the transition to reuse.”