Single-use plastic ban: How is the UK doing?

Is the UK doing enough to combat plastic pollution?

Some facts about plastic pollution

Based on government estimates, the UK alone generates 5 million tonnes of single-use plastic every year, half of which is plastic packaging.

The trouble is only 50% of the UK plastic packaging is recycled. If you do the maths, there’s still an enormous yearly amount of plastic ending up in landfills and staying there for up to 500 years.

Instead of biodegrading, plastic gives off tiny fragments called microplastics. These can easily reach the ocean in different ways, like through your washing machine for instance.

While large plastics can be a deadly trap for marine wildlife, microplastics can enter the food chain as fish feed on it.

And guess what else is microplastic filling in?

Yes, humans! Looks like we eat a credit card each week worth of plastic.

Doesn’t sound like a healthy diet, right? Indeed, it’s a toxic one!

But has the UK come up with any solutions for plastic pollution?

Let’s look at the most recent policies implemented across the country and beyond.

A plastic scenario: Brexit splits the kingdom (again)

On Thursday 1 October 2020, the UK officially declared war on plastic pollution.

By approving the Environmental Protection law, the government banned plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers.

Definitely a good start but still not enough as claimed by environmental activists.

Just across the English channel, the EU has already changed gear in the plastic reduction race. Pushing for a circular economy, they introduced a single-use plastic (SUP) directive in 2019.

The law targeted the 10 most common disposable plastic items polluting our planet.

  • Cotton bud sticks
  • Cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers
  • Balloons and sticks for balloons
  • Food containers
  • Cups for beverages
  • Beverage containers
  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastic bags
  • Packets and wrappers
  • Wet wipes and sanitary items


EU members have got time until July 2021 to enforce the regulation on a national level and will have to replace all of the above with more sustainable alternatives.

As you can see, the EU’s SUP is much more ambitious than the current UK ban.

However, last 12 May the UK House of Commons said the UK won’t implement the EU’s SUP. One of the “advantages” of Brexit, apparently.

According to Defra, the UK Environment Bill will be world-leading legislation outranking the EU efforts in the reduction of plastic. They’d better approve it soon if the government wants to meet the goal of banning all avoidable plastic by 2042.

But there’s a funny situation unfolding on the other side of the Irish Sea. Acting as a sacrificial lamb in the Brexit negotiations, Northern Ireland will have to stick with some of the European rules from 1 January 2022 or sooner.

To add to that, Wales and Scotland are independently considering whether or not to follow the SUP.

The result of all this? A Brexit (plastic) remake.

Table of Contents

Looking for Sustainable Solutions?

Skip to content