For Forks Sake

Another  ‘year of inaction’ from the government

Why hasn’t Defra banned some of the most polluting single-use plastic items?

A year ago, Defra announced that they were planning to ban some of the most polluting single-use plastics including things like single-use cutlery. According to government estimates, England uses 1.1 billion single-use plates and 4.25 billion items of single-use cutlery — most of which are plastic — per year, but only 10% are recycled upon disposal. This is a BIG problem and one that the rest of Europe has already taken action to tackle.

Despite action all across Europe in recent years, including from Scotland and Wales, England still hasn’t delivered on it’s promises to ban these polluting plastics.

EU won’t believe it

Remember how we used to be part of that club – the European Union? Well, they all agreed to get together and ban some of the most polluting single-use plastics as part of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. A jolly good idea that we, the United Kingdom, supported as it went through the European institutions the directive outlined a list of the most polluting and easy-to-ban items like straws, cotton buds, and plastic cutlery.

In October 2020 the UK banned some of them, like plastic straws. Inexplicably, and unlike any other country, they didn’t include all the items on the list though.

Cut The Cutlery

In the summer of 2021 – months after the rest of Europe had to have legislation in place – together with 38Degrees and Greenpeace, we launched our #CutTheCutlery campaign. The public, like us were pretty outraged by this lack of inaction and over 118,000 people signed our petition calling for Defra to take action.

And they did (well sort of!). Defra announced they were to launch a consultation on banning all the remaining items. When, in November 2021, they launched the petition, more than 50,000 members of the public responded to the consultation via City to Sea and 38 Degrees. You won’t be surprised to hear that the overwhelming majority called for a ban to be introduced as quickly as possible. We even summarized the results for Defra and this is what they said …

What the pubic said….  

  • Most respondents backed a ban on all the items being considered – such as cutlery, plates and polystyrene food containers – with support at 96% or above across the board. Massive!
  • Crucially, almost two-thirds (64%) said the ban should kick in sooner than the government’s April 2023 start date. With 35% agreeing with the proposed date, and just 2% saying it should be later.
  • Importantly, 61% also said that bio-based, ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ plastics should also be banned – something that the campaigners have dubbed ‘critical’ for tackling plastic pollution.  The wide-scale use of material substitutes such as bioplastics should be regarded with caution. Bioplastics can be harmful to the environment and won’t shift people of companies away from a culture of throwaway packaging.

Shocked I tell you …. Shocked

The consultation closed in February 2022 and since then, we’ve heard not a whisper. They haven’t even published the results. In that time, plastic production has continued to spiral widely out of control (as have the number of Defra ministers supposedly responsible for this!).

England now stands as the only country in Europe without legislation in place to ban polluting single-use plastics such as plastic plates, cutlery and expanded and extruded polystyrene cups and food containers. As we said before, this lack of action is a “dereliction of Brexit promises”. 

In the meantime, Scotland has introduced a law banning these items and Wales has published its draft legislation. England is the only country to not have published its legislation.  

With the Government’s proposed start date of April 2023 looming, campaigners fear 12 months of inaction could also see this deadline missed. This is why we have, once again, gone to the media to demand action.

We were promised a Green Brexit. Instead, we’re spending years chasing Defra to implement the very basic environmental standards that have been in place across Europe now for years. Their foot-dragging approach to tackling plastic pollution stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of being ‘world leaders’ in tackling plastic pollution.

Steve Hynd

Policy Manager, City to Sea

What happens next

We hope that Defra listen, and make sure that this issue finds it’s way to the top of their to do list. Where it belongs. And until then, we’re not going to stop calling on the government, reminding them of their promises and calling out their empty words as they claim to be “world leaders” when the reality is that they’re not even doing these basics.

How you can help:

  • Spread the love and share our post on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Contact your MP and ask them the very simple question: “Why has this government not banned polluting plastics like plastic cutlery when 1) it was promised over a year ago and 2) every other country across Europe including Scotland and Wales have managed to do it??
  • Donate to City to Sea so we can keep the pressure up and keep demanding change from the powers that be. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to do this crucial campaigning work of holding government to account.
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