The Great British Clean-up: a ban on single-use plastics

Following the introduction of similar legislation in Scotland and Wales*, and a consultation exercise by the UK Government (the outcome of which was announced on 14 January 2023), a range of polluting single-use plastics will be banned from use in England from October 2023. 

What is coming into force and why?

Under the Environmental Protection (Plastic Plates etc. and Polystyrene Containers etc.) (England) Regulations 2023, individuals will not be able to buy certain single-use plastics from any business after October 2023. The scope of the ban includes all retailers, restaurants, takeaway venues, other food vendors and the remainder of the hospitality industry.

The Government estimates that each year England uses 2.7 billion pieces of single-use cutlery and 721 million single-use plates, most of which are plastic. A mere 10% of those items end up being recycled. As part of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan (published in January 2018), this decision is therefore another step towards eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Having already banned the sale of single-use plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds in 2020, alongside introducing the plastic bag charge, it is a sign the Government is determined in its fight against the ‘throwaway culture’.

Following a 12-week consultation between November 2021 and February 2022 undertaken by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) the overwhelming response by consumers and non-governmental organisations was that 95% are in favour of the ban, believing it will have a positive impact on tackling the plastic crisis. Businesses were (perhaps understandably) more lukewarm in their response, with around 20% signalling unfavourable views on the ban, partly due to clarity issues relating to its application, and the increased expenditure in seeking alternative types of packaging. Undoubtedly there will be some practical and cost challenges for businesses to get to grips with.

The Government has announced that the ban will be enforced through civil sanctions using powers set out in the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. Civil sanctions might include fixed monetary penalties and stop notices, with a failure to comply with them potentially being a criminal offence and subject to a fine following conviction.

Which single-use plastic products will be affected?

  • Plates
  • Trays
  • Bowls
  • Cutlery (knives, forks, spoons, and chopsticks – both miniature and full-size)
  • Balloon sticks
  • Expanded and extruded polystyrene cups
  • Food containers

The above items represent some of the most polluting single-use plastic items found in rivers, oceans and on beaches. 

Although perceived as wide-ranging, the ban will not include plates, trays and bowls used as packaging in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items.

Instead, these items will be included as part of the rollout of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regime, which is due to commence this year.

Future planning

Although the list above covers some of the most used items for businesses such as takeaways, cafés and supermarkets, the UK Government has warned us to expect additional items to be included in the not-so distant future. Views were sought in the consultation on other commonly littered single-use plastic items, including wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and single-use cups. As part of the consultation, the Government also invited opinions, ideas, and insights regarding how we can shift away from single-use items to reusable or refillable alternatives.

With almost nine months to prepare, businesses should be planning ahead and encouraging customers to bring their own reusable items (such as cups in coffee shops) and begin (or continue in some cases) to rely on biodegradable alternatives such as paper cutlery ranges and compostable items. Nine months also gives businesses sufficient notice to use up their single-use plastic items and not be forced into throwing away unused stock, which ironically would exacerbate the issue the Government is trying to tackle.

Waste remains a big topic in the UK and businesses should expect further waste prevention and reduction schemes to emerge in due course.  

Following the consultation being published, Defra invites comments on the proposed changes to be sent to [email protected] by 30 January 2023. Shoosmiths are able to advise on the details of the ban, alongside any potential repercussions for businesses and consumers.



*Legislation in Scotland came into force under the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 on 1 June 2022 (although not currently due to be implemented until 16 August 2023, an independent review having found that the previous “go live” date was impractical). Wales’ intentions have been made under the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill but this is not yet in force.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.


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