Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds are to be banned in England from April next year in a move campaigners have welcomed but warned will “only scratch the surface” in tackling the damage that non-degradable waste is doing to the environment.
The environment secretary Michael Gove confirmed the ban on the supply of the items after an open consultation revealed “overwhelming” public support for the move.
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 said.
Mr 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.”
An estimated 10 per cent of cotton buds are flushed down toilets and can end up in waterways and oceans.
The consultation revealed 80 per cent of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90 per cent backed a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89 percent supported a ban on cotton buds.
Paper straws and cotton buds with paper stems are already widely available.
It is estimated there is over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste polluting the world’s oceans and every year around a million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.
A recent report estimates the quantity of plastic in the sea will treble by 2025.
The ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds is the latest policy announced by the UK government to crackdown on plastic.
The plastic microbeads ban came into force last year, and the 5p plastic bag charge was introduced in 2015 – which the government says has led to nine billion fewer bags distributed.
Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s been a long time coming, but we welcome the news that DEFRA are finally enforcing a ban on throwaway plastics like straws, cotton buds and stirrers. The reality is though that these bans only scratch the surface.
“To really tackle the plastic crisis we need bigger bolder action from this government – including targets to radically reduce the production of single-use plastics and an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for drinks containers.”
Laura Foster, from the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We are delighted with this government decision which will help consumers move to a more plastic-free lifestyle.
“Surveys last year during our Great British Beach Clean showed, for instance, that cotton buds were in the Top 10 items found by volunteers – with an average 17 found per every 100 metres of beach in England. It’s right that plastic cotton buds should be banned.
“While we strongly welcome today’s announcement, we now need Michael Gove to go further in moving to reduce plastic consumption overall and increase recycling rates, particularly with a fully inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles and glass.
“It’s clear that the public mood has changed and what we need to see now is further action by retailers and the government to encourage a move against all single use plastic and to improve recycling.”
Lauren West, from Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “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.
“We’re pleased the government has recognised this in its proposals put forward today.”
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