Several platic bottls

Single-use plastic ban: what does the legislation mean for your business?

Recycling and waste reduction schemes to drive sustainability have become commonplace for many small business owners. However, some businesses still rely on single-use plastics.

With more than 2.7 billion single-use plastic cutlery items being used in England each year, the government has acted to try and solve this issue. New legislation will make it illegal to sell certain single-use plastic items, cutting these harmful objects from circulation and reducing landfill.

Below, we outline why reducing single-use plastics can be effective in the fight to combat climate change and push your business toward net zero. Plus, we’ll explain how you can prepare for the ban and offer some practical tips and insight to help you get ahead.

What are single-use plastics?

Single-use plastics, also known as single-use plastic products (SUPS), are pieces of plastic that are made to be thrown out. These plastics are designed for consumer convenience over their durability, making them disposable and likely to end up in landfill.

Why are they harmful?

Throughout their lifecycle, plastics have a significant carbon footprint, emitting 3.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Use of landfill – which made GHG emissions peak in the mid-1990s – has plummeted since the introduction of a landfill tax. However, landfill still accounts for 14 megatonnes of CO2 annually, more than half the total emissions from the waste sector.

This statistic makes sense when we take a closer look at a sector like the catering and hospitality industry. 2.7 billion single-use plastic cutlery items and 721 million single-use plates are used every year in England, but only 10% of them are recycled.

What is the single-use plastic ban?

Flowers being wrapped in plastic packaging.

The Scottish government has already taken action to combat plastic pollution, introducing a single-use plastic ban in June 2022. And the UK government is following suit, with new legislation being implemented in October 2023 that will make it illegal for English businesses to sell or provide certain single-use plastic items.

Under this legislation, the term ‘single use’ means an item that can only be used once for its original purpose.

It includes:
- Online and over-the-counter sales and supply.
- Items from new and existing stock.
- All types of single-use plastic, including biodegradable, compostable and recycled.
- Items wholly or partly made from plastic, including the coating or lining.

This means the sale of commonly-used items such as polystyrene food containers, plastic cutlery, straws and balloon sticks will no longer be allowed.

There are exemptions to the above. For plates, bowls and trays for example, you can still supply these if:
-You’re supplying them to another business.
-The items are packaging (e.g. a pre-filled bowl, a plate filled at the counter of a takeaway, or a tray used to deliver food).

Note: Polystyrene food containers can still be supplied if the food inside them still requires further preparation, such as adding water, toasting or microwaving.

Single-use plastic ban: the potential penalties

The items on the list are used by a wide range of businesses and sectors, meaning there are many companies who will be affected by this ban.

The maximum fine for a legislation breach in Scotland is £5,000. The fine in England hasn’t been announced yet but could align with this figure.

This ban will be upheld by local authorities, who will carry out inspections to make sure the rules are being followed. These inspectors can:

  • Visit a shop or store
  • Make test purchases
  • Speak to staff
  • Ask to see records

If you break the law, inspectors can order your business to cover the cost of the investigation.

Single-use plastic alternatives and sustainability schemes

A person holding up two small cardboard boxes.

Thankfully, there are options available to help cut single-use plastic from your operations and therefore, avoid costly fines.

These innovative alternatives to single-use plastics can help you minimise your business’s waste and ensure you align with new legislation.

  • Biodegradable packing peanuts:

These are a great environmentally-friendly alternative to the traditional packing peanuts made from polystyrene. They are 100% compostable and still offer the enhanced durability you need from packing peanuts. You can take a closer look here.

  • Seaweed packaging:

Plentiful and undemanding to produce, seaweed could well be the answer to providing alternatives to many current plastic products. Learn more about seaweed packaging here.

  • Recycled cardboard and paper:

Recycled cardboard is already used in many food and beverage packaging ranges. By recycling cardboard, this reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill – and cuts down on energy use by 25%.

And there are many more. You’ll find a comprehensive list of your eco-friendly packaging options here.

Other sustainable business practices

There are other ways your business can enhance sustainability and shrink its environmental impact. Not only can these schemes and processes help reduce your environmental impact, they can boost staff morale, build your business reputation within the community and also save on costs.

We’ve created a handy list of recycling tips for small and medium businesses, you can find it here.

Once you’re set up, an effective communication strategy to your customers about the changes you’re making can work wonders. To find out more, we’ve compiled a helpful article to make sure you’re speaking to the right people about your sustainable initiatives on social media, which you can read here.

Let’s not forget that there are many ways you can watch your business costs and even help reduce outgoings with sustainable practices and initiatives.

You can:

  1. calculate your carbon footprint
  2. carry out an energy consumption audit
  3. optimise your supply chain
  4. join sustainability platforms packed with tips and advice on how to reduce outgoings as well as emissions. Click here for all this and more.

If you found this page useful, visit our small business sustainability hub for more free tools, tips and expert advice.

Please note, SSE Energy Solutions has written this blog for information purposes only. We recommend speaking to your own business and financial advisors before taking any direct action that will impact your business.