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Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to be banned

Image credit: Nordroden | Dreamstime.com

Plastic straws and drink stirrers, and cotton buds with plastic stems will be banned from sale and use in England from next spring, in a bid to reduce pollution and protect the environment.

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, has confirmed a ban on the supply of the items from April 2020 following a consultation that revealed “overwhelming” public support for the move.

Following the ban, food and drink outlets will be unable to display plastic straws or provide them routinely to customers.

However, those who need to use plastic straws for medical reasons or a disability will be able to buy them from registered pharmacies and to request them in restaurants, pubs and bars.

There will also be an exception permitting the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds for medical and scientific purposes.

“Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment,” said Gove as he announced the move.

An estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used in England each year.

The government also added that around 10 per cent of cotton buds are flushed down toilets, and often end up in waterways and oceans.

It is hoped that the ban would result in millions of pounds being save annually on clean-up efforts for used plastics.

The government’s response to the consultation, published on Wednesday (22 May), reveals that more than 80 per cent of respondents back a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90 per cent a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89 per cent a ban on cotton buds.

“These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life,” Gove added. “So today, I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”

It is estimated that more than 150 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year, while one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

Many campaigners have welcomed the government’s move.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Sam Chetan-Welsh from Greenpeace, “but we welcome the news that the Government is finally enforcing a ban on throwaway plastics like straws, cotton buds and stirrers.”

However, he added that, despite the enforcement, the reality is that these bans “only scratch the surface”.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, which campaigns against plastic pollution, said: “Stopping the production and distribution of these single-use plastic menaces will prevent them from polluting beaches nationwide.”

“It’s a really positive and bold step in the right direction against plastic pollution,” he added.

However, the items expected to be banned were only part of the plastic problem, said Emma Priestland, campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“These three items are just a fraction of the single-use nasties that are used for a tiny amount of time before polluting the environment for centuries to come,” she said.

“Ultimately, we need producers to take responsibility for the plastic pollution caused by all their products, whether it’s bags, balloons, packets, containers or otherwise. That’s why we’re campaigning for legislation to cut back on pointless plastic across the board.”

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