• Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Proactive or Performative: Does Wales’ recent plastic ban go far enough?

ByNancy Britten

Nov 9, 2023
An image of the empty Senedd (The Welsh Parliament's main assembly room).

In the global battle against plastic pollution, Wales has taken a notable legislative stride with its recent ban on single-use plastics in takeaways and restaurants. The ban, which took effect from 30th October, is the first phase of its Environmental Protection Act, and sees plastic plates, cutlery, drinks stirrers, polystyrene cups, cotton buds and straws all falling under the list of illegal items to sell or supply.
In the eyes of the Welsh parliament, this measure is poised to significantly reduce the flow of plastic into the ocean, underscoring their commitment to the climate crisis. However, there is still room for scepticism. In a world grappling with escalating environmental challenges, I can’t help but wonder if this act is more performative than transformative, merely scratching the surface on a much deeper issue.

Firstly, the success of this ban hinges on effective enforcement and the availability of viable alternatives. Numerous traders have faced difficulties in the past few weeks acquiring higher-cost eco-friendly packaging, potentially leading to more expensive takeaways.

While I am aware that damaged waterways and greenhouse gases are more pressing issues than the price of a kebab, this does raise the legitimate question of how the government plans to collaborate with industries to ensure that sustainable alternatives meet the demands of business and consumers alike.
It is anticipated that materials such as wood and bamboo will become dominant in disposable cutlery, but is this not simply substituting the problem of one single-use item for another? We need a total move away from the wasteful habit of discarding things after one use and focus the conversation on reusable options to eliminate the environmental impact of production processes.

Additionally, I question if this inventory of items has too narrow a scope. It is merely ‘a drop in the ocean’ of many larger sources of plastic waste that continue to be overlooked, especially since the ban will not include plastic cutlery and plates from supermarkets and shops, nor plastic packaging on fruit and vegetables.

Furthermore, the second phase of the ban, which will include polystyrene lids and oxo-degradable plastic products, is not expected to be introduced until Spring 2026. This ban feels like little more than a reluctant attempt from the government; enacting too little, too late instead of fiercely tackling the plastic problem head on.

Nevertheless, whether or not this simply serves as a symbolic gesture, its capacity to catalyse meaningful change cannot be denied. Since individuals like David Attenborough brought the issue of plastics in our oceans to the surface, measures such as charging for plastic bags have seen significant success in the UK.

Protection of marine animals and prevention of toxic micro-plastics in our water is paramount, so any policy that moves towards banning plastic is a positive step forward. It should be viewed as a foundational step within a broader movement in the direction of sustainable practices.

Ultimately, as we navigate this critical juncture, a deeper commitment to comprehensive, systemic change remains essential to protecting our planet for generations to come.

Senedd – Welsh Government Assembly Room” by Dave Hamster is licensed under CC BY 2.0.