Single-use plastics

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • It is illegal to provide plastic drink stirrers and cotton buds to customers.
  • There are significant restrictions on providing customers with plastic straws.

To reduce the level of plastic waste, the Government has introduced the Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020.

These regulations make it an offence to provide customers with three different types of single-use plastic products: straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers. The regulations treat these different products in slightly varying ways.

Plastic drink stirrers

It is an offence to sell or supply drink stirrers to end-users and businesses in England. This means that it is an offence for you to be sold plastic drink stirrers by a supplier, and for you to supply them to your customers.

Plastic cotton buds

It is an offence to sell or supply plastic cotton buds to end-users in England, but they can still be supplied to businesses. This means that you are to purchase plastic cotton buds if you need them for a purpose such as cleaning fixtures and fittings, but it is an offence for you to provide them to your customers.

Plastic straws

It is an offence to sell or supply plastic straws to end-users in England, but they can still be supplied to businesses.

However, there is an exemption to this regulation for catering establishments, which includes restaurants, pubs, bars, cafés and hotel dining rooms. If you are providing food and/or drink for immediate consumption, you are allowed to continue to provide customers with single-use plastic straws, provided that:

  • The straws are not kept in a place where they are visible to customers;
  • The straws are not kept in a place where customers have access to them, and;
  • The straws are not offered or provided to customers unless requested by the customer.

This means that you can provide a plastic straw to a customer if they specifically ask for one. You cannot serve a drink with a plastic straw in it, or put a box of straws on a counter for customers to help themselves.

It is also illegal to sell products such as cartons of drink with plastic straws attached.

​​The regulations are enforced by local authorities, who can inspect premises to ensure that businesses are complying, and are able to levy fines on businesses that are found to be in breach of the regulations.

Note: The Government has announced proposals to phase out the use of single-use plastic plates, cutlery, expanded and extruded polystyrene cups and food and beverage containers, but no timetable for this has yet been published. There has also been a call for evidence on the impact of products such as wet wipes, sachets and single-use cups, which will inform policy decisions on reducing their impact on the environment.