By Samantha Osborne, Commercial lawyer at national law firm Freeths
With the ban on single use plastics now here, businesses must ensure that they understand the regulations and take steps to mitigate the impact the ban might have on their day-to-day activities.
In this article, we recap the changes that are coming into force, which take effect from October 2023, remind businesses of what they should be doing now, and consider the opportunities that the changes might present.
The ban applies to the following single-use categories:
- Plates, bowls and trays unless you are supplying them to another business or the items are packaging (pre-filled or filled at the point of sale). Examples of this include:
- a pre-filled salad bowl or ready meal packaged in a tray
- a plate filled at the counter of a takeaway
- a tray used to deliver food
- Cutlery and balloon sticks (no exemptions)
- Polystyrene food and drink containers unless further preparation of the food is required before it can be consumed.
So, how are businesses preparing for the ban?
Breaches of these regulations can result in fines for the business owner so now is the time to be up to speed on the rules, using up old stock and ensuring that the replacement stock meets the legal requirements.
Whilst we recognise the potential financial implications of having to source new suppliers, there is a potential upside for those businesses with green aspirations, which is that this ban can be an opportunity to scope out potential new suppliers for their long-term sustainability credentials. If your business is in the fortunate position of having a few options to consider when it comes to suppliers, why not be picky and look for the suppliers that are doing more to be sustainable?
The bigger picture
The single-use plastics ban follows the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007, which are expected to be extended, and the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022. All of these have the ‘polluter pays’ concept at their core but is it enough? Single-use plastic items such as plastic forks or polystyrene cups are often replaced by items such as wooden forks and take-away cups that cannot be recycled and are still single-use items.
If the outcome of the ban on single-use plastics is likely to be the same quantity of waste in the form of other single-use items then perhaps there should be an equal and concurrent focus on tackling consumer complacency around the use of single-use items and encouraging consumers to embrace reusable items instead. We all want to do what we can to reduce our impact on the environment, but consumer behaviour is unlikely to change unless motivated by incentives such as rewards or discounts for using their own reusable packaging. If we want consumers to change their behaviours, we have to make the sustainable choice the easy choice.