Skip to main content

The single-use plastics ban came into force in England on 1 October 2023, banning and restricting several single-use plastic products.

At the time of the announcement, images of plastic forks, polystyrene takeaway containers and plastic cups littered the news. While some people were delighted with the changes, others argued that the ban did not go far enough. With further action against plastic likely to come into force, what does this mean for businesses across the country?

This article examines the rules surrounding single-use plastic items and sheds new light on handling complex plastic waste streams efficiently, sustainably, and profitably.

Plastic Pollution

Plastic is cheap, light, and flexible. First invented in 1907, its success and dominance have resulted in significant environmental problems. The UN estimates in its ‘Drowning in Plastics’ report that in 2020, over 400 million tonnes were produced.

Before the single-use plastics ban was introduced in October 2023, 2.7 billion pieces of mostly plastic single-use cutlery were used across England every year. Yet shocking figures showed that only 10% of this was being recycled. The other 90% was either burnt, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, or dumped in landfills.

From plastic balloon sticks to single-use plastic straws and plastic cutlery, plastic waste is wrecking the planet. In the oceans, 80% of all marine debris is plastic-based. As these plastics break down, they form smaller particles called microplastics, which are easily digested by marine life. On land, microplastic pollution is affecting the fertility of the soil. Even simple acts like washing clothes can release microscopic plastic fibres into our water.

There has never been a more critical time to reduce our dependency on single-use plastics and find suitable alternatives to these potentially toxic substances.

The Single-Use Plastics Ban

Single-use plastics refer to plastic items that are used only once, often as packaging, wrappers, or bags, and are very quickly discarded once used. Often, items, from balloon sticks to polystyrene cups, are thrown away without even registering with the consumer.

When the ban came into force in October 2023, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“This new ban is the next big step in our mission to crack down on harmful plastic waste.

This builds on our world-leading bans on straws, stirrers, and cotton buds, our single-use carrier bag charge, and our plastic packaging tax, which will help us on our journey to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

With the impact of this ban particularly being felt across the manufacturing industry and commercial businesses, let’s explore the new rules.

The single-use plastics ban polystyrene cups

Which Single-Use Plastic Products Are Now Banned?

In a bid to reduce avoidable plastic waste, single-use plastic cutlery, plastic balloon sticks, drink stirrers, polystyrene containers and polystyrene cups have all been banned. Businesses can no longer sell them online or over the counter.

The sale of plastic plates, bowls, trays, plastic straws, and plastic cotton buds online or over the counter has been restricted.

These bans and restrictions include items made from biodegradable, compostable, and recycled plastic and items with a plastic coating or lining.

Getting Technical About Polystyrene

If polystyrene is a major part of your business, it’s important to understand which products fall within the ban's scope.

The GOV.UK website states the following on its guidance page:

“Only polystyrene that has been through a foaming process is in the scope of this ban. Foaming is a method of expansion of the material at any point during its manufacture, by any means (such as heat from steam, expansion during cooling), using any blowing agent (such as butane, pentane, propane).”

This means that expanded polystyrene (EPS) products, such as expanded polystyrene beads, and extruded polystyrene (XPS) products, such as polystyrene nurdles, are included in the ban.

Are There Any Exemptions to the Ban?

Over twenty different exemptions are listed— from usage within medical treatment to forensic purposes. Let’s explore them now.

Plates, bowls and trays.

There are a few exemptions where businesses can still supply single-use plastic plates, bowls and trays. This includes if a business is supplying them to another business and if the items are packaging, pre-filled or filled at the point of sale. Examples include a pre-filled salad bowl.


Plastic straws can be supplied by registered pharmacies, but they must not be displayed to customers or advertised in-store or online. Similarly, catering establishments can supply plastic straws on request from customers but must not display them. Single-use plastic straws can also be used for medical purposes in care homes, schools, and prisons.

Cotton buds.

Single-use plastic cotton buds can continue to be used for forensic, scientific and medical purposes.

Polystyrene containers.

Businesses can continue to use polystyrene drink and food containers to transport unprepared or unprocessed food through the supply chain.

For more information, have a read through this page on the GOV.UK website.

There is also a dedicated email address for business owners with questions about the new rules:

How Will Local Authorities Enforce the Rules?

With the new ban in place, businesses are responsible for ensuring compliance and taking steps towards reducing plastic pollution.

Local authorities are responsible for carrying out inspections. This could range from ordering test purchases to visiting a business and speaking to staff and asking to see records.

If a business is found to be breaking the law, it could receive a fine and be ordered to cover the cost of the investigation.

Taking Steps To Reduce Avoidable Plastic Waste

The new ban on single-use plastic packaging is forcing businesses to abandon plastic packaging manufactured for a short shelf life and explore suitable alternatives.

As leading facilitators of the circular economy, Waste Mission focuses on helping companies move away from the wasteful practices of the traditional economy with its ‘take-make-waste’ model, and instead keep products and materials in use at their highest value and for as long as possible.

This new plastics ban allows suppliers and businesses to work together to explore eco-friendly packaging solutions that can contribute to a circular economy.

Below is an outline of steps to help your business reduce avoidable plastic waste.

  1. Awareness. Make sure your company is clear on the rules surrounding the plastic bans and restrictions. GOV.UK website
  2. Alternatives. Whether you manufacture plastic packaging or run a hospitality business, now is the time to consider creating or sourcing suitable alternatives. Explore recyclable packaging products or lighter alternatives that reduce your overall pack weight and remove CO2 from your packaging supply chain. With the rates of the Plastic Packaging Tax increasing, it is now more important than ever to review the long-term sustainability of packaging.
  3. Consumers. Communicate the new changes to your consumers and encourage them to help reduce avoidable plastic waste. From encouraging reusable alternatives to educating people on the environmental impact of plastic cutlery waste and cotton buds, your business can help consumers change their habits.
  4. Recycling. Invest in recycling options, encouraging buyers to actively participate and help reduce plastic pollution. Read our article on the 7 Benefits of Recycling for Businesses.

Turn Your Plastic Waste into Savings

At Waste Mission, we have over forty years of experience handling complex waste streams. We pride ourselves on bringing efficiency, sustainability, and profitability to customers and ensuring that plastic waste is transformed into savings.

Sustainable plastic waste management is all about:

  • reducing the amount of plastic waste generated in the first place
  • reusing where possible
  • recycling what can’t be reused
  • selling what we can (‘one man’s waste is another man’s treasure)
  • only then, disposing of what’s left

Bring us onboard, and our responsive team of experts will become an extension of your business, taking care of plastic waste so you can stay focused on your core operations. We aim to educate, encourage and uncomplicate waste management by offering a bespoke, tailored service, all from a single point of contact.

We promise to:

  1. Guide you to reduce your plastic waste and increase your profitability
  2. Turn your waste into solutions, reducing reliance on potentially toxic substances
  3. Navigate complex regulations for you, ensuring you meet environmental and legal requirements
  4. Provide a waste portal for contracted customers to easily access data on your waste production, recycling levels, and carbon footprint.

Together, we can reimagine your plastic waste and bring a breath of fresh air to your business.

Book a waste review today or call us on 01438 755307.