England bans single-use plastics to reduce pollutants, waste
U.K. Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey announced Jan. 14 that polluting single-use plastics will be banned in England, according to GOV.UK. England consumes 2.7 billion single-use plastic cutlery items and 721 million single-use plates, yet only 10% of this estimate is recycled.
The ban is in effect as of October, including all single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers.
Scotland and Wales have already introduced similar restrictions, while the U.K. government abolished single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in 2020, according to The Guardian.
Sustainability Council member Naz Kaya (’25), who is part of the SusCo Community Involvement team and an Eco-Committee representative, said the ban will hopefully enact positive change in the environment, although it might not be a complete solution.
“Companies are making their way around this upcoming ban, so it might not reduce much of the single plastic use that’s taking place now,” Kaya said. “Although I don’t think there’s any negative impact to it, if anything there’s going to be some beneficial impact, although it might not be as major as we expect it to be.”
Companies are making their way around this upcoming ban, so it might not reduce much of the single plastic use that’s taking place now.
— Naz Kaya ('25)
Kaya said some plastic-producing companies are labeling their products as reusable, even though they are still in the form of single-use plastic. According to AIMPLAS, this loophole is used on account of a reusability test that allows products to be put through the dishwasher multiple times, allowing it to be labeled as “reusable.”
Co-President of SusCo Dylan Linton (’23) said at a recent council meeting after the ban had been introduced, the group had an open table discussion in which members shared their opinions on the ban as a part of a new environmental news program the Council is implementing in their meetings.
“These single-use plastics pollute the ocean, rivers and are very unsustainable and detrimental in terms of how they’re manufactured,” Linton said. “It’s actually only a small percentage that end up in the recycling. Most single-use plastics that are used are sent immediately to landfill.”
According to GOV.UK, plastic pollution takes hundreds of years to degrade and inflicts significant damage on oceans, seas, rivers and land. It is a consequential source of greenhouse gas emissions from the development and manufacturing of plastic through to the manner of which it is disposed.
Science Teacher Marisa Wilson, who teaches AP Environmental Science, said although the school is improving its use of single-use plastic and individualized packaging in the cafeteria compared to during the pandemic, the community still needs to be more conscious of how to continue reducing waste.
“I see our recycling bins filled with things that shouldn’t be in there, I see our trash and landfill bins filled with recycling,” Wilson said. “Students, faculty members, the whole community just needs to be more aware of what they’re doing with their waste because every little bit counts.”
Further, Wilson said she attributes the new restriction to the UN Environment Programme, as England is fulfilling its requirements toward decreasing plastic pollution. She said the U.K. seems to particularly have a deep sense of responsibility and care working towards improving the environment, with microbeads and plastic straws also being banned within the past few years.
The United Nations Environment Assembly, the governing body of the UN Environmental Programme, meets “to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law,” according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). It has had five sessions since launching in 2014.
Danny Joseph (’26) said this ban could both improve and damage the larger community.
“We will obviously have reusability and less single-use plastics, however, I also can see some negative aspects to this ban, for example, medical purposes to keep things sterile,” Joseph said. “You wouldn’t want to ban single-use plastics that are going to be destroyed after one use that were made in the purpose of cleanliness and disinfection as this is vital for our health purposes.”
Moreover, Linton said the restriction may lead to new products and innovations emerging that are made up of alternative, more eco-friendly materials. He said the change would likely be most evident in restaurants and stores.
My hope is these bans will inspire others to be more cautious.
— Dylan Linton ('23)
“As someone who is very environmentally aware and has a passion for sustainability, I am already very cautious of my decisions when consuming things,” Linton said. “My hope is these bans will inspire others to be more cautious.”
Kaya said she encourages herself and others to minimize their carbon footprint and make sure that people only purchase products that are reusable and sustainable.
Joseph said he is interested in seeing how the ban impacts the reusability and recyclability of plastics.
“We’ll see what opportunities this creates,” Joseph said. “Who knows what kind of application we can find for multiple-use plastics, but let’s just see how far this gets.”
On a larger scale, Linton said there is further action that needs to be taken in order to fully achieve the end result that the U.K. is striving toward.
“While it is a great first step, there is a lot of waste that is still being produced today,” Linton said. “I just want to see if those are equally as scrutinized.”