Single-use plastic cutlery, plates and other items are set to be banned by the UK government and replaced by biodegradable items as it seeks to tackle the country’s – and the world’s – growing plastic waste problem.
The UK has already banned some single-use plastic items, including straws, stirrers and cotton buds, but a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told CNN on Wednesday the government was “determined to go further and faster to reduce, reuse, and recycle more of our resources.”
The spokesperson said the department held a public consultation into new restrictions on plastic in England and will be addressing the issue soon. A similar ban is already in place in Scotland and another one is set to take effect next year in Wales. The Financial Times reported that the UK Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey will announce firm plans in the coming weeks.
The government said 1.1 billion single-use plates and 4.25 billion items of single-use cutlery are used in England each year, equivalent to 20 plates and 75 pieces of cutlery per person. Only 10% of this giant mountain of plastic ends up recycled, the government said in the consultation document, adding that plastic cutlery was among the 15 most littered items in the UK.
Research has shown that restrictions on the use of plastic items can be effective. A report published in 2018 showed a significant drop in the number of plastic bags littering Britain’s seabed following the ban on free plastic bags in the UK. The UK has pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and the latest proposal is similar to other bans around the world.
The European Union banned single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton buds last summer. India, the world’s second most populous country, imposed a ban on single-use plastic items including straws, cutlery, ear buds, packaging films, plastic sticks for balloons, candy and ice-cream, and cigarette packets in July this year. And later this month it will become illegal in Canada to manufacture and import plastic bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stirrers and straws.
In the US, California put in place sweeping new restrictions on single-use plastic in June, requiring all single-use packaging and plastic single-use food serviceware be recyclable or compostable by 2032.
The UN has warned the world is facing a giant plastic pollution problem if governments don’t act quickly. A report from the UN Environment Program published last year revealed that the amount of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could nearly triple to as much as 37 million tons per year by 2040.
Single-use plastics are also accelerating climate change, as most are derived from fossil fuels and produce emissions at every stage of their lifecycle. At current rates of production, emissions from plastics threaten the world’s ability to keep global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees.
In an attempt to tackle the problem, the UN Environment Assembly passed a historic resolution earlier this year to end plastic pollution and create the world’s first-ever global legally binding plastic pollution treaty by 2024.
The move was hailed as a major success, but getting a concrete agreement will likely be difficult, in part because some of the world’s most powerful companies are working hard to water down any proposals. The American Chemistry Council, which represents the likes of ExxonMobil Chemical Company and Shell, has lobbied against production caps and bans, calling them “misguided.”