Wales planning to ban all single-use plastics from 2021

Written by Science

The Welsh Government revealed plans earlier this week to ban a wide range of single-use plastics, a proposal expected to be passed into legislation following an upcoming consultation. Materials to be part of the ban include straws, cotton buds and disposable cutlery. Packaging from expanded polystyrene is to also be encompassed by the ban as it is non-recyclable. 

A similar ban is currently passing through parliament in UK Government legislation, and it’s set to come into force next month. However, the Welsh proposal takes this further, following a more extensive list of single-use plastics published by a new EU directive. 

If the legislation passes, companies won’t be able to produce and sell banned items.


The consultary part of the process is crucial according to the Welsh Minister of Recycling, Hannah Blythyn, who said it will help decision-makers “to understand the impact of this proposal, particularly on any citizens who may be reliant on some of the items we have included, to make sure we get it right.” The full quote can be found here.

Campaigning groups have argued that a ban on products such as single-use straws will have a detrimental impact on those who rely on them to drink independently; straws have previously been described as an “accessibility tool” for many. When the single-use straw ban arose in San Fransisco a couple of years ago, an article for Vox argued: 

“Reusable straws can be hard to maintain and sterilize, and may not be safe to use, while compostable products, which can dissolve in hot liquids, present a choking and allergen hazard.”

Vox article

As no firm explanations regarding how the ban would work in practice have been released, we can expect the government to consider different perspectives, to ensure that the ban works for everyone. It is likely some forms of exemption will be included in final decisions, such as on disposable plastic gloves, which are obviously required for hygiene purposes in many industries.  


Many countries world-wide have already imposed their own single-use plastic bans, including Kenya, which has the world’s harshest plastic bag ban with four years jail time for their manufacture, and Canada, who placed a widespread ban on plastic microbeads.

 Many countries world-wide have imposed their own single-use plastic bans. In Kenya you can recieve up to four years in jail for manufacturing them!

However, these changes have been relatively recent so there’s been no long-term study to assess the effect of plastic-bans as of yet. In 2018, it was found that 91% of all plastic wasn’t recycled. Marine wildlife carry arguably the biggest direct impact of this plastic waste; a recent study found plastic in the digestive systems of 90% of seabirds and 100% of turtle species tested.

The production of plastic is also a major contributor to global warming: according to the World Economic Forum, between 4% and 8% of global oil consumption is related to plastics, having a massive effect on climate change. Roughly half of plastic production is dedicated to single-use plastics, so we could expect a huge benefit to the environment if single use plastic bans work.


The flexible nature of plastic is so hard to replicate, hence its popularity. So at the moment, the easiest way to switch from single use plastics to renewable alternatives is to focus on replacing specific types of plastic products. For example, you can get metal, glass and paper straws. Swap your coffee cup for a reusable, more durable one. And you can use fabric bags or even sturdier plastic ones instead of thin single-use plastic bags. Making a conscious decision as to what and why you’re making product swaps and making an effort to remember reusable versions of items really helps – try and get into a habit.

Last modified: 16th April 2020

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