In England, five billion single use plates and plastic cutlery are used every year, according to government figures. Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey plans to phase out these items in an effort to reduce plastic pollution. She told The Mail, “A plastic fork can take 200 years to decompose – that is two centuries in landfill or polluting our oceans.
This new ban will have a huge impact to stop the pollution of billions of pieces of plastic and help to protect the natural environment for future generations”.
The effects of plastic pollution
Plastic pollution has become a serious environmental issue. There are different forms of single use plastics littered in our streets, on our beaches, and in our rivers and oceans. In 2019, single use plastics accounted for 40% of plastic produced every year according to National Geographic.
Plastics break down into microplastics that can affect human health as we breathe them in and eat them unknowingly. It has also been found that sea birds eat plastic on a regular basis. Consequently, the level of plastic pollution we are experiencing has prompted efforts to write a global treaty, negotiated by the UN, to fight against the negative effects of overuse of plastics.
A step in the right direction
The UK is one of 170 nations that pledged to significantly reduce the use of plastics by 2030 in 2019. The plastic straw ban came into force on 1 October 2021 as part of the government’s 25-year environment plan. While it is still unclear when the new ban on single use plastic cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups will come into effect, it seems to be a step in the right direction to limit pollution. It follows a public consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that ran from November 2021 to February 2022.
Using a mop for a flood
Greenpeace UK, an organisation that works towards eliminating the causes of environmental destruction, believes there is still a lot to be done. In response to the announcement, Megan Randles, Greenpeace UK political campaigner, said: “Whilst it’s welcome that the government has finally banned certain items, we’re dealing with a plastic flood, and this is like reaching for a mop instead of turning off the tap”
Coffey has said that she “knows there is more to do” and the department has “listened to the public’s calls.
Bans in the EU
The EU already banned single use plastic cutlery in July 2021. The EU ban is very clear that it includes biodegradable plastics, while it would appear that Coffey is allowing biodegradable plastics to be excluded from the ban in the UK. This might not seem too bad because they are named ‘biodegradable’, these plastics aren’t a solution.
Steve Hynd, a policy manager for City to Sea, an environmental charity located in Bristol, says, “Many of these bioplastics are incredibly environmentally damaging and won’t break down in the natural environment”. This is because although they are ‘compostable’, they can only decompose in an industrial compost site rather than at home, and this still takes three to six months. Coffey is yet to confirm if the UK will be following the EU’s example of including these biodegradable plastics.
England might not be the first country to ban single use plastics, and there is still time for a move towards less plastic pollution. Reducing use of single use plastics can have a positive effect on the environment, animals and us.