Government to ban plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has today confirmed the Government will place a ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton buds in England, following overwhelming public support for the move.

Following an open consultation, a ban on the supply of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force in April 2020. The ban will include exemptions to ensure that those with medical needs or a disability are able to continue to access plastic straws.

The government’s response to the consultation published today (22/05) reveals over 80% of respondents back a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% a ban on cotton buds.

In England alone, it is estimated that annually we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds. An estimated 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets some of which end up in our rivers and oceans.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:“Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment. 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.

“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.”

There are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons and the government will ensure that those that need to use plastic straws for medical reasons can still access them. Registered pharmacies will be allowed to sell plastic straws over the counter or online. Catering establishments such as restaurants, pubs and bars will not be able to display plastic straws or automatically hand them out, but they will be able to provide them on request.

An exemption will also be in place to allow the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds for medical and scientific purposes, where these are often the only practical option.

In July 2017 a report published in the journal Science Advances from the University of California in Santa Barbara calculated the total volume of all plastic ever produced worldwide is at 8.3bn tonnes of which 6.3bn tonnes is now waste and 79% of that is in landfill or the natural environment.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO, Surfers Against Sewage said: “Surfers Against Sewage welcome the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. 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 in the battle against plastic pollution.”

“It is also helps further drive plastic-free options and alternatives for the public so they can truly make more sustainable choices in their daily lives.”

Earlier this year, the government launched a consultation on a tax on plastic packaging, the findings of which are due to be published later this year.