Walking around Oxford’s Gloucester Green market, plastic is everywhere to be found. It’s littered across the ground, and nearly all of the twenty or so food vendors visibly distribute plastic of some form. Following a recent decision by the Oxford City Council, however, all single-use plastic will have to go by April.
After a year-long campaign by Green and Liberal Democrat Councillors, the licensing committee voted to ban street traders from using single-use plastics in Oxford. The city will rely on monitoring officers, public reporting, and fines to enforce the new rule. At the end of 2022, a public consultation found that 79% of respondents were in favour of the ban.
At The Catchy Greek, a stall at Gloucester Green market, all packaging is made of paper but the forks are still plastic. The stall owner told Cherwell that they “don’t mind” the new policy, as they have almost completely abandoned single-use plastics already, and they usually have wooden cutlery available.
According to Nick from The Java Laksa Co., an Indonesian & Malaysian joint at the market, this is a welcome but difficult change. The stall currently uses containers made of hard plastic, which he says are easier and cheaper to source than quality biodegradable products. Nick told Cherwell that supply shocks have caused a reduction in the available options from wholesalers while also increasing the prices of eco-friendly packaging by multiple times, as most of it is shipped from China. The switch would also be extra costly for Java Laksa because paper packaging for offerings such as soup would need to be thick and high quality. He does not want to be forced to pass on these increased costs to customers.
Nick says that he is “strongly against” the cheap and low quality polystyrene popular with kebab vans and many of his competitors. However, he believes that the hard plastic used by Java Laksa is easy to re-use and recycle, so it shouldn’t be considered single-use. Java Laksa has a sign encouraging customers to “please return plastic containers back to us for recycling … or re-use them yourself.” Nick told Cherwell that he would also appreciate it if the government helped ease the transition by subsidising the cost of biodegradable packaging for street traders.
Hassan from Hassan’s kebab van on Turl Street told Cherwell, “It’s a good idea but it’s bad for me.” He currently uses orange styrofoam containers; he previously used eco-friendly ones but they were just too expensive. An eco-friendly container costs around 90p, so a hundred containers is equivalent to as much as a night’s salary. The extra cost will need to be somehow compensated. Hassan is also wary about the environmental benefits of the switch, as he believes most containers will still end up in the trash anyway rather than be properly composted or recycled.
After the decision, Green Councillor Lois Muddiman said, “We know that single-use plastics have a massive environmental impact – both in their production and their contribution to problems of littering.” According to the other Green Councillor, Rosie Rawle, “Independent, small traders are the beating heart of Oxford’s economy” and accordingly “have an important role to play in addressing our city’s environmental impact.”