The government is a step closer to extending a ban on single-use plastic items to plates, cutlery, and cups in England with the launch of a new public consultation.
As well as a 12-week consultation, there will be a separate call for evidence to investigate how to limit products creating avoidable waste, such as wet wipes containing plastic, tobacco filters, and sachets.
Possible options could include banning the use of plastic in these items, and also mandatory labelling to ensure consumers dispose of them appropriately.
Environment Act powers could be used in order to put new charges on single-use items, helping combat “throwaway culture”, and incentivise consumers to choose sustainable alternatives.
The new proposals follow the banning of microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, reductions in the number of plastic bags used in shops, and restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, coffee stirrers, and cotton buds.
Black Sheep Coffee is a business built with sustainability at the heart – established in 2013, their priority is to ensure that the materials that they use are all compostable, avoiding plastic waste.
Raquel Mezquita Rincon, coffee operations manager, told Sky News: “Social responsibility and sustainability, we think that it goes together.
“We source coffee in an ethical way and we thought we have to echo that in all the areas in the company, not just how we source the coffee but also how we finally produce it to the customers.”
She added: “Since day one, we’ve been using non-plastic materials.
“If we started like that, I think for any other company that opens or any company that wants to transition to non-plastic materials it’s easier.”
The government aims to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
Jo Churchill, DEFRA minister, told Sky News: “Single-use plastics are a menace.
“What we want to do is to make sure we can get rid of the single-use plastics that actually, are so difficult when you look at how they affect marine life and when you look at how they affect nature – how litter blights some of our most beautiful spots, but also our town centres.
“That’s why getting rid of single-use plastics is so important.”
She added that phasing out plastics is a slower process in industries such as medicine “where there aren’t alternatives”, meaning everything has to be done in a “measured way”.
In England, an estimated 1.1 billion single-use plates are used each year, as well as 4.25 billion items of single-use cutlery – most of which are plastic – but only 10% are recycled.
A blanket ban on single-use plastics is not welcomed by everyone.
Caroline Wiggins, CEO of eGreen, argues that during the pandemic, single-use items have proved to be incredibly beneficial.
She told Sky News: “You’re eradicating the need for multiple people to touch a product and risk infection.
“It’s recognised to have helped reduce infection and cross infection in wards and hospitals.
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“So the risk of banning something is extremely serious because we’ve had a pandemic that has highlighted these issues of hygiene.”
Ms Wiggins added that the “implication” of alternatives needs to be considered.
She said: “If we turn to wood for example, where does it come from?
“Trees – and if you look at COP26, one of the agenda points was deforestation.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “There is growing recognition of the damage that plastics cause to our environment and marine life in particular. We want to reduce the use of plastics in packaging and ban its use in items linked to littering.
“We have already banned plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds and now plan to extend the ban to cutlery and balloon sticks where alternative materials, like wood can be used.”