From today, it is illegal for businesses to sell or supply single-use plastic items like straws and stirrers. People who have medical conditions meaning that they need to use straws will be exempt from the ban in hospitals or when visiting bars or restaurants.
It's a good start on tackling our reliance on throwaway plastics - which have amounted to 4.7 billion straws and 316 million stirrers per year in England alone. But there is still a long way to go. There should be much more emphasis on encouraging reusable items, whilst single use plastic cutlery and drinks containers should be next on the list for a ban.
Meanwhile, a new British Standard for biodegradable plastics is being introduced, which will require any plastic claiming to be biodegradable to break down into a harmless wax which doesn't contain any microplastics or nanoplastics (small and really tiny fragments of plastic). In the past, some biodegradable plastics have allowed toxic chemicals to be leached into the soil as they break down, which actually harms the environment.
PAS 9017 - the name for the new British Standard - has been developed by British company Polymateria, in association with the waste and recycling advisory group Wrap, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and industry stakeholders.
Bio-transformation chemicals developed by Polymateria are added to plastic as it is being made, with special ingredients used in the bio-transformation formula for each type of plastic. The resulting material can then break down within two years to carbon dioxide, water and sludge. Its decomposition is triggered by air, sunlight and water. Bottles, food films and food cartons can all be made from the material.
The thinking behind the new standard is that it's there to complement existing waste disposal methods. So ideally, plastics made with the new materials will still go into the recycling system as before. But if, for any reason they are not recycled properly, the new materials will break down harmlessly within a couple of years. This is a massive improvement on today's non-biodegradable plastics, which remain in the environment for hundreds of years and never truly disappear, gradually breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces.