Bans on single-use plastic items, typically for the most littered food and beverage consumption items, are in effect to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste which pollute and harm our land, seas and wildlife.
A single-use plastic is defined as an object which has been designed and intended to be used “only once” before being disposed of or recycled. As management of plastic waste is a devolved issue, there are some differences across the UK devolved nations on bringing in single-use plastic bans. Scotland have recently launched their single-use plastic ban from 1 June 2022, Wales published a draft Bill on 15 August 2022, and consultations in England and Northern Ireland took place earlier in 2022. Therefore, this news story provides a full breakdown of differences across the UK devolved nations on their existing and future bans on single-use plastic items.
Comparison of single-use plastic items banned across the UK devolved nations & the EU:
Scotland’s single use plastic ban was brought in from 1 June 2022 but was subject to the impact of the UK Internal Market Act 2022, which excluded any of the listed items that were first imported or manufactured in another UK devolved nation from the ban. However, the Scottish ban became fully effective from 12 August 2022, when the exclusion of these items from the Internal Market Act came into force. Making it unlawful to manufacture and supply commercially the items listed above (noted as banned from 1 June 2022), regardless of whether manufactured or first imported into another part of the UK. Some exemptions do apply to the Scottish ban, see a full description of the new ban below:
From 1 June 2022, in Scotland you must not manufacture or supply:
- Single-use expanded polystyrene beverage cups;
- Single-use expanded polystyrene beverage containers;
- Single-use expanded polystyrene food containers;
- Single-use plastic cutlery;
- Single-use plastic plates; and
- Single-use plastic beverage stirrers.
It is also an offence to supply:
- Single-use plastic balloon sticks. (There are exemptions if the balloon stick is supplied for attaching to balloons for industrial or other professional uses and applications and are only distributed for business purposes.)
- Single-use plastic straws, with exemptions for:
- Medical devices, or medical purposes, such as medical diagnosis, research or treatment
- Retail pharmacies, subject to a ban on advertising and public display (not including online display)
- Catering establishments, as long as the straws are not advertised or on display to the public
- Care homes, schools, childcare premises, and prisons
- Personal care or personal support services
- Plastic straws used as use as packaging.
A single-use plastic ban in England came into force from October 2020, which restricts the supply (not manufacture) of single-use plastic drink stirrers, cotton buds and drinking straws, again with some exemptions for medical purposes. It was required that any of these items bought prior to 1 October 2020 were supplied/sold before 1 April 2021, so it is now an offence to supply these items in England, for which you could be fined.
The single-use plastic ban introduced in England does not yet apply to the remaining items in the list (single-use plates, single-use cutlery, balloon sticks, extended polystyrene food and drink containers), however a consultation was launched late 2021 with proposals to ban these items. We are currently waiting on the outcome of this consultation, which closed 12 February 2022. Please note this consultation did not include plans to ban oxo-degradable products.
A draft Bill (a proposed law which is introduced into Parliament) was published by Julie James MS, the Minister for Climate Change in Wales on 15 August 2022, which seeks to restrict the sale of all single-use plastic items listed above. The Bill is still in draft format but has been published to allow stakeholders the opportunity to see the proposed scope ahead of its formal introduction into Senedd in the autumn of 2022.
The Bill would make it an offence to supply a prohibited single-use plastic product to a consumer in Wales. Single-use plastic items proposed are drinks stirrers, cotton buds, drinking straws, plates, cutlery, balloon sticks, expanded polystyrene and foamed extruded polystyrene food and drink containers, and oxo-degradable products (with some exemptions).
Now that the UK is not a member of the European Union, the UK is no longer obligated to comply with the EU Directive. However, as part of the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland is obligated to adopt certain articles of the EU Directive according to the provisions agreed in the withdrawal protocol. Within these articles is the EU Single-use Plastics Directive, which Northern Ireland did have an extended deadline to January 2022 to implement this ban, however it is not currently in place.
The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) held a consultation on options for the reduction of single-use plastic beverage cups and food containers, which closed 14 January 2022. However, we are still waiting for DAERA feedback on this consultation, which when released will hopefully outline a ban for these items.
To conclude, we can see that Scotland’s recent launch of a comprehensive single-use plastic ban alongside the existing ban in EU member states, puts these nations ahead of England, Wales and Northern Ireland with their bans. England and Wales are moving positively forward with some items banned in England already and proposed bans for remaining unbanned items in the two nations in place. Northern Ireland are too taking steps in the right direction, but we are yet to see proposals for a comprehensive single-use plastic ban here.