England Is Banning Single-Use Plastic Cutlery and Plates

A public consultation revealed 96% approval for the decision.

disposable plastic fork on the ground

Klaus-Dieter Thill / EyeEm / Getty Images

England is set to ban single-use plastic cutlery and dishes. The announcement, which will be officially made on January 14 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), follows a three-month consultation that gathered public opinions on items such as plastic plates, cutlery, balloon sticks, and extruded polystyrene.

The idea of a ban was "backed by overwhelming public support," according to the Daily Mail, and Greenpeace UK reports that 96% of the 51,000 consultation participants said they'd support a ban on all of the items under consideration.

It's estimated that the average person in England uses 18 disposable plastic plates and 37 pieces of disposable plastic cutlery every year, with a mere 10% of that getting recycled. This works out to 1.1 billion plates and 4.3 billion pieces of cutlery being used annually, most of which get tossed in landfill after their fleeting usefulness. Litter relating to takeout food and drink packaging dominate plastic waste in the ocean, according to a 2021 study. So it seems logical to want to tackle this issue.

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said this ban will have a huge impact on stemming the flow of plastic pollution into the natural environment. "A plastic fork can take 200 years to decompose; that is two centuries in landfill or polluting our oceans. I am determined to drive forward action to tackle this issue head on. We've already taken major steps in recent years—but we know there is more to do, and we have again listened to the public's calls."

The ban will apply to restaurants, cafes, and takeout foods, but not stores or supermarkets, where such single-use plastic is considered to be "primary packaging" and will be addressed by other means. 

Steve Hyndside, policy manager at nonprofit City to Sea, thinks there are enough alternatives available to allow for a smooth transition. He said in an interview that "all of the items covered by this ban already have potential replacements on the market, whether that's cardboard boxes, wooden utensils or even one's fingers." We Treehugger staff would add reusables to that list, too. Always BYOC—bring your own cutlery!

Richard Swannell, interim CEO of WRAP, an NGO working to reduce waste, said his organization is in full support of this announcement.

"[It] marks important progress in the wholesale removal of problematic and unnecessary plastics that can end up as plastic pollution. WRAP is working with UK businesses to meet ambitious targets in this important area, and our latest results show an 84% reduction in problematic and unnecessary single use plastics by our UK Plastics Pact members since 2018. We're delighted to see these efforts being backed up by regulation, which will accelerate efforts to keep plastic out of the environment."

This ban follows another that was implemented in England in October 2020, banning plastic straws, stir-sticks, and cotton swabs with plastic stems. Scotland's single-use plastics ban came into effect in August 2022 and similar laws were approved in Wales this past December.