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2 September 2021 General


Defra decided to wait for the Bank Holiday weekend to announce it is publishing a consultation in the autumn on banning plastic plates, bowls, cutlery and EPS cups. Over the last few months we’ve held meetings with the Defra team dealing with this proposal. There is a sense of inevitability, with action on these items taking place in Wales, Scotland and the EU. However, while Defra Secretary of State, George Eustice states people have 'seen the damage that plastic does to our environment' and it was right to 'put in place measures that will tackle the plastic carelessly strewn across our parks and green spaces and washed up on beaches', he fails to mention that plastic cutlery, according to Keep Britain Tidy’s 2020 analysis, accounts for 0.4% of litter by count, while cigarette butts account for 66.3%. He also fails to reference that the cutlery ends up in parks, green spaces and beaches because of the people he quotes as having 'seen the damage'. The cutlery doesn’t get there by itself.

This will inevitably be yet another consultation based on litter which will fail to mention the public’s role in littering and preventing littering. Indeed we challenge Defra to give even just one mention to the public creating litter in the consultation document.

Plastic plates and bowls aren’t even listed in KBT’s analysis, while EPS cups aren’t identified, so we will never know if they are a littered item or not as KBT won't give us access to their raw data.

It is therefore a myth to claim these items are highly featured in litter. It is also a myth to believe alternatives, such as bamboo cutlery (not always plastic free), won't be littered.

In a statement to Packaging News earlier this week, we said: "During the pandemic the NHS turned to wrapped plastic cutlery and continues to place large orders. It is most important we remember this is a consultation and the legislative process will need to be followed. April 2023 has been given as the date for possible implementation and we will urge government to give business at least a further six months to use up stocks. We also believe the items proposed for banning will still be permitted in some environments, such as healthcare, while bowls and plates used as packaging (ie filled and paid for) will be exempted. Retail customers can continue to purchase these items with confidence there will not be an immediate ban.

"Of course no items, whatever the material, should end up in rivers and seas but let’s please be honest about how they get there in the first place. We look forward to COP26 but will the proposed ban even make a tiny dent on achieving carbon reductions?"