How the UK’s new single-use plastic ban will change your takeaways

Find out how a new single-use plastic ban in the UK will change your takeaways, and help promote sustainable practices.

The UK is taking a step towards environmental sustainability with the introduction of a new single-use plastic ban. This law, which became effective on 1 October 2023, represents a major change in the country’s approach to reducing plastic waste and its negative impact on the environment.

This article, from the sustainable packaging experts at W.F. Denny, examines how this legislative shift affects takeaway food services in the UK, a sector that has traditionally relied heavily on single-use plastics.

What’s the new ban on single-use plastics?

The new UK regulation bans certain single-use plastic items, including plastic plates, bowls, trays, containers, and cutlery.

‘Single-use’ plastics are defined as items intended to be used once before disposal. This category includes all types of plastics, including biodegradable, compostable, or recycled, and also applies to items that are fully or partially made from plastic, such as those with plastic coatings or linings. 

As consumers we will see noticeable changes in their takeaway experience due to this ban. The move away from single-use plastics will introduce us to a variety of alternative packaging and utensils. We can expect to see materials ranging from bamboo and wood to biodegradable composites. While these changes might have a range of consequences, they represent a collective shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

The ban also serves to educate the public about the environmental impacts of single-use plastics and the value of sustainable practices. As we get used to these changes, our growing acceptance of sustainable alternatives could influence more environmentally friendly choices in other areas of our lives.

What changes can you expect to see?

Takeaways and caterers now need to find sustainable food packaging alternatives to single-use plastic. We are likely to see an increase in the use of materials such as kraft brown corrugated board, kraft brown paperboard, and bagasse. These materials are not only environmentally friendly but also offer practical benefits that have led many food retailers to use them even before the ban took effect. 

Kraft brown corrugated board and paperboard are known for their durability, making them ideal for a variety of food packaging needs. Kraft brown materials are biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable.

Bagasse will likely be the popular replacement for polystyrene burger boxes. This material is made from pulped and dried non-wood fibres such as sugarcane and bamboo, which makes products completely biodegradable and compostable. 

Are there any exemptions and special cases?

Single-use plastic plates, bowls, and trays can still be supplied if they are part of packaging that is either pre-filled or filled at the point of sale. This includes items like pre-packed salads, meals in trays, or plates filled at a takeaway counter. 

Additionally, businesses can supply these items to other businesses, which is an important consideration for suppliers in the food industry. 

Polystyrene food and drink containers

A significant aspect of the ban is the specific prohibition on supplying ready-to-consume food and drink in polystyrene containers, including cups. Polystyrene, known for its expanded and extruded forms, is targeted by the new restriction due to its environmental impact. However, the ban allows for certain exceptions.

For example, food or drink that requires further preparation before consumption, such as items needing to be microwaved or toasted, can still be packaged in polystyrene containers. This distinction is important for businesses that offer products that require additional preparation by the consumer.

The UK is trying to reduce environmental pollution and promote sustainable practices

The introduction of the UK’s single-use plastic ban represents a significant change in both the takeaway industry and consumer habits. By shifting away from single-use plastics, the UK is taking a step towards reducing environmental pollution and promoting sustainable practices.

This legislative change not only affects how takeaway businesses operate but also influences consumer behaviour, and should encourage a broader adoption of environmentally friendly practices.