Since the late 20th century, we have depended on plastic as an affordable, versatile and durable material. Much of what we consume is made of plastic (such as plastic bottles and food containers) because it’s inexpensive, yet durable. However, plastic is slow to degrade — taking over 400 years or more — due to its chemical structure, which presents a huge challenge.
Three-quarters of plastic that is not recycled or incinerated enters our environment, polluting our oceans and causing damage to our ecosystems. In less developed countries, the majority of plastic waste eventually ends up in the ocean, meaning that marine animals are especially at risk.
To combat the global issue of plastic waste and pollution, the ban on supplying plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds has come into force in England on Thursday 1st October, marking yet another major step in the Government’s fight against single-use plastic waste to protect our environment and clean up our oceans. This ban applies to all businesses (e.g. manufacturers and retailers) selling or supplying these products to end-users.
Key government actions against plastic waste
It is estimated we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England every year, many of which find their way into our oceans. By banning the supply of these items, we can further protect our marine wildlife and move one step closer to our ambition of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste, as set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan.
While making this important step to help the environment, people with disabilities and those with medical conditions will also be protected and will be able to request a plastic straw when visiting a pub or restaurant, and purchase them from pharmacies.
Other key government actions on plastics include a world-leading ban on microbeads, introducing a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers, as well as committing to a ban on the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. As announced recently, the 5p charge on single-use bags will be doubled to 10p and will extend to all retailers from April 2021.
As a way to encourage the greater use of recycled plastic, the government will also introduce in April 2022 a new tax on plastic packaging. This will apply to plastic packaging that does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content.
Related read: Everything you need to know about plastic waste
FAQs: What your business needs to know about the new regulations
The Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has pulled together a number of frequently asked questions so your business is equipped with the necessary guidance. See below for more information.
What is included in the ban?
Single-use plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers are being banned in England from the 1st October 2020. You won’t be able to buy any of these products in shops other than pharmacies, though catering establishments will still be allowed to supply plastic straws to people that request one. All businesses that supply these products to customers are included in this ban, including retailers and restaurants. Business to business sales are not included in this ban.
What is exempt from the ban?
Single-use plastic straws are essential for people with disabilities or accessibility needs, and single-use plastic cotton buds are essential for medical, scientific and forensic reasons. Therefore the ban includes some exemptions. There are no exemptions for plastic drinks stirrers.
How long can I continue to use/sell my current stock of these items for?
Businesses can continue to supply stock acquired before the 1st October for 6 months after the ban enters into force.
What does it mean to supply someone with one of these items?
This means to provide a plastic straw, stirrer, or cotton bud to someone, regardless of whether it was for sale or given away for free. A person will be offering to supply an item if, for example, they: display the item for sale in a shop or market stall, advertise the item for sale in writing, or offer to supply the item to another person verbally.
Who is an end-user?
An end-user is any person to whom the product is supplied with the intention to use the product for its intended purpose. For instance, a customer in a shop who has bought a pack of straws for use at home.
What should I do if a customer asks for a straw?
There is no requirement for customers to prove that they require a straw due to medical restrictions. If a customer requests a straw then businesses can provide one. However, plastic straws must not be kept in a place where they are visible to customers, or where customers can access them and are not allowed to be offered to customers whether verbally or in print.
Do I have to keep straws behind the counters for disabled users?
No, whether to do so is a decision for individual businesses.
Can I continue to provide/sell drinks with drinking straws attached (e.g. Capri Sun pouches)?
To allow industry time to innovate, the supply of single-use plastic straws attached to their packaging will still be allowed to be provided until 3rd July 2021.
Can I appeal or object to any enforcement action taken against me?
You can object within 28 days of you receiving a fine, the fine or letter will tell you how to do so. You can appeal a penalty if you feel your fine was wrong, unreasonable or based on an error. You can also appeal if you feel that your non-monetary requirement is unreasonable, or if the variable amount penalty is too high.
How your business can improve waste reduction
Much is to be gained from reducing the volume of plastic we use. Until businesses start to utilise more environmentally-friendly, alternative natural materials (such as paper, metal, bamboo or wood ), the cycle of producing and disposing of plastic will continue. Reducing plastic waste, therefore, boasts numerous benefits, from preserving natural resources and protecting the environment, to saving money.
- In addition to the ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers, what waste reduction techniques can you incorporate throughout your business?
- Switch to reusable or easily recyclable alternatives such as paper, glass or metal
- Opt for low waste products that use less packaging to make a significant difference over time
- Avoid individually-packaged items
- Recycle what you can, including sorting paper, card, glass and plastics
- Only buy what you need and avoid duplicating orders
To find out what happens to your waste when you recycle it, what our helpful video on the lifecycle of a plastic milk bottle.
Take a moment to download our waste reduction guide
One of the best ways to reduce waste is to avoid it altogether and devise innovative ways to reuse and recycle. The major benefit of avoiding waste is that it can save you money from buying new replacement goods and having to pay to get waste collected.
Luckily, you can reduce waste generation and incorporate waste reduction procedures in your business model by applying some of the tips and examples we outline in our guide, ‘9 quick tips for reducing waste to save time, money and the environment.’
Click on the button below to download the guide today.