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Plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton buds will be banned in England

Michael Gove, UK’s Environment Secretary, today announced confirmation of a ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton buds across England. The ban will come into force in April 2020.

The ban comes after wide public support for action to be taken on the issue of plastic pollution, following the release of BBC’s Blue Planet.

A government consultation showed 80% of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastics straws, 90% supported a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% backed a ban on cotton buds.

England alone is estimated to annually use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 416 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds. 

Plastic waste can cause vast problems for the environment, especially these smaller and lighter plastics that can easily get through the sewage system or get picked up by the wind.

Currently, there is estimated to be over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans. Recent reports estimate that plastic in the sea is set to treble by 2025.  

High rates of plastic pollution have seen the increase in birds and ocean mammals die as a result. Every year, one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste.

Gove commented that action needed to be “urgent and decisive”. He explained: “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.” (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/gove-takes-action-to-ban-plastic-straws-stirrers-and-cotton-buds)

Exceptions will be made for those that use plastic straws and plastic stemmed cotton buds for medical reasons. Also, cotton buds used for scientific and forensic purposes will be exempt from the ban.

Registered pharmacies will be able to sell plastic straws over the counter or online. While catering establishments will not be able to display plastic straws or hand them out automatically, they will be available on request.

Lauren West, Trailblazers Manager at Muscular Dystrophy UK, accepted the need for reducing plastic straws but emphasised the importance for disabled people:

“Plastic straws are sometimes the only type of straw that work for disabled people due to their flexibility and ability to be used in hot and cold drinks. While we appreciate the need to reduce the use of plastics, traditional single-use straws are essential for some disabled people.”

The ban has gained support from Surfers Against Sewage, an organisation at the forefront of tackling plastic pollution.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “It’s a really positive and bold step in the right direction in the battle against plastic pollution.”

Alternatives to these products are available, including reusable metal straws, paper straws and biodegradable alternatives to plastic in stirrers and cotton buds.

Although some campaigners believed the ban did not go far enough.

Emma Priestland, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “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 believes producers need to “take responsibility for the plastic pollution caused by their products… That’s why we’re campaigning for legislation to cut back on pointless plastic across the board.”

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