Single-use plastic plates, cutlery and trays are set to be banned in England from October in a shake-up that will force retailers and takeaway vendors to seek recyclable alternatives.
The Department for the Environment (Defra) said the ban will also cover certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers as the government seeks to curb the “devastating” impact of plastic on the environment.
England uses around 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery per year, with only 10 per cent recycled.
Under new legislation, it is expected that the ban will be enforced through civil sanctions – but with the possibility of repeated breaches ending up in a criminal offence.
However, the ban will not apply to plates, trays, and bowls used as packaging in what the department called “shelf-ready pre-packaged food items” such as salads.
Ministers are considering whether to target other polluting items such as wet wipes, tobacco filters and sachets.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow said that the government would also be “pressing ahead with our ambitious plans for a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and consistent recycling collections in England”.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, applauded Defra for the latest step but said plastic sachets should be included in the ban.
“The ultimate symbol of our grab-and-go, convenience-addicted lifestyle, should be the next target in Defra’s sights,” she said.
“Some 855 billion sachets are used annually, never to be recycled, infecting our environment with plastic chemicals.”
Nina Schrank, plastics campaign lead at Greenpeace UK, said: “This announcement is really just nibbling around the edges of a giant problem.
“Banning items one by one might produce nice headlines for the government but the reality is it won't stem the staggering amount of plastic the UK produces each year.
“The government needs to announce reuse targets that mean supermarkets have to follow suit, offering reuse and refill solutions to their customers that eliminate the need for disposable packaging.
“It urgently needs to end the export of waste overseas, which has led to open dumping in countries such as Turkey.”