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In-depth guidance on the ban on supply of single-use plastics to businesses and end users

Single-use plastics

The supply of single-use plastic straws, cotton buds, plates, trays and bowls to end users, and the supply of plastic drink stirrers, cutlery and balloon sticks, and the supply of polystyrene food or drink containers (including cups) to business and end users is prohibited in England

This guidance is for England

The Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020 prohibit the supply, or offering to supply, any single-use plastic straw, plastic stemmed cotton bud or plastic drink stirrer in England.

The Environmental Protection (Plastic Plates etc and Polystyrene Containers etc) (England) Regulations 2023 prohibit the supply, or offering to supply, any single-use plastic plates, bowls and trays, cutlery and balloon sticks, or polystyrene food or drink containers and cups in England.

There are some exemptions to these prohibitions.

Damage caused

The Regulations have been introduced to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. It is estimated that we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds, 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery and 721 million single-use plates in England every year, many of which find their way into our ocean. By banning the supply of these items, the Government aims to further protect our marine wildlife and ultimately eliminate all avoidable plastic waste, as set out in the 25-year environment plan.

The products covered by the regulations are amongst the most commonly found items on beaches throughout Europe. In a summary of their study carried out in 2020, the Pew Charitable Trusts and SystemIQ state: "The flow of plastic into the ocean is projected to nearly triple by 2040. Without considerable action to address plastic pollution, 50 kg of plastic will enter the ocean for every metre of shoreline."

Plastic straws, cotton bud stems and drink stirrers are consistently in the 10 most commonly found items in beach surveys. Around 15% of plastic ocean waste washes up on shore, which can increase the risk to public health from contact on beaches and bathing waters. The rest remains in the ocean where fish and other marine animals can eat them (because of their size), introducing potentially toxic substances into the food chain.

Campaigns to promote behaviour change have failed to stop the irresponsible disposal of these items. Cotton buds are commonly flushed down toilets, and sewage treatment works cannot prevent all of them reaching the sea. When entering sewage systems, the plastic stems do not settle with organics; their buoyancy allows them to flow through plant equipment and their narrow diameter means they are not caught by all screens. Straws and drink stirrers are rarely recycled due to their size and the effort required to remove any food debris. Only 10% of plastic plates, cutlery, etc is recycled

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