Single-use plastics

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Key facts

  • New legislation on single-use plastics makes it illegal to provide plastic drink stirrers and cotton buds to customers and puts 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, which came into effect on 1 October 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 different ways.

Plastic drink stirrers

It is an offence to sell or supply drink stirrers to end-users and businesses in England. This means 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 will be able to purchase plastic cotton buds if you need them for a purpose such as cleaning fixtures and fittings, but it will be 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 will be 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.

If you sell products such as cartons of drink with straws attached, you can continue to display and sell these products with the straws attached until 3 July 2021.

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