By Catherine Parker, The Refillery Canterbury

FEB 26, 2023

My Sarcastic Clap for England’s latest Plastic Waste legislation

Catherine Parker, The Refillery Canterbury

Source: Image on

"DEFRA says every person in England uses an average of 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 items of plastic cutlery every year."

Do you remember that clap from Nancy Pelosi? I imagine primary school Heads might do the same when class enthusiasm borders on silly showing off antics. It says “oh you think you’re being smart but really you know you could do so much better….and I’m actually quite disappointed, but here’s a clap because you think you deserve one.”

I feel that disparaging body language is what I’d use for Thérèse Coffey and DEFRA’s recent announcement that England will, finally in October this year, ban single-use items like plastic cutlery, plates, bowls, balloon sticks, and polystyrene trays, cups and food containers. Oh, really well done. Never mind it’s two years after the European Union, or that Scotland and Wales both already made that move last year.

The ban will of course reduce the amount of avoidable plastic waste in the system and is a good thing. DEFRA says every person in England uses an average of 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 items of plastic cutlery every year. It follows previous rules to ban microbeads (2018), restrict single-use plastic straws and drink stirrers (2020), impose a tax on some imported plastic packaging (2022) and of course the original Government intervention, introduce plastic carrier bag charges back in 2015. That first new rule felt significant – I would have clapped wholeheartedly then, believing it was the first step in leading a mighty war on plastic. Wait, what? Scotland again had made that move a year earlier? Hmm… I’m now adjusting my imagined praise to a more sarcastic angle.

I like the quote from Megan Randles, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK – I can imagine her eyes-to-heaven and deep sigh, saying "We're dealing with a plastic flood, and this is like reaching for a mop instead of turning off the tap."

But in total so far, this track-record deserves a huge “could do better” sarcastic round of applause. The ban won’t affect the plastic plates, trays, or bowls that come with pre-packaged food items (as these are covered by the softer Extended Producer Responsibility incentivisation scheme), it doesn’t include plastic water bottles, or wet-wipes, or cigarette butts, and isn’t attempting to control the toxic pollution impact from burning plastic waste in incinerators.

And next to come will be the pitifully delayed introduction of England’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles and cans – first announced in 2019 but not scheduled to appear until 2025. As a Surfers Against Sewage statement explains, it’s not only lamentably late but won’t include glass bottles, whose production is highly energy intensive being the most carbon-heavy of all container materials, and which, unlike plastic, is infinitely recyclable. Oh, and Scotland’s DRS scheme will come into effect this August, ahead again – and will include glass. Slow clap England.

All Governments’ environmental and pollution control measures get announced with fanfare bravado and hyperbole, but when this Government looks for praise for their underwhelming performance, plans and ambitions, they only get a deeply sincere sarcastic clap from me.

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