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UK to ban sale of plastic straws and drinks stirrers that blight the country’s seas and rivers, ministers say

Environment secretary Michael Gove said it is 'vital' that the government act to prevent further pollution

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 23 April 2018 19:15 BST
Michael Gove says he is exploring whether plastic straws can be banned

The UK is set to ban the sale of plastic straws and drinks stirrers that blight the country’s seas and rivers, ministers have announced.

In the latest move to tackle the escalating plastic waste problem, environment secretary Michael Gove said it is “vital we act now” to eliminate straws from use – with 8.5 billion thrown away every year.

The ban, which also covers plastic-stemmed cotton buds, is being announced at the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on Thursday, where the UK will commit £61m to develop new ways of clearing up plastics.

It follows a string of announcements from Mr Gove’s department as he pushes to stake out environmental issues as Conservative political territory, with campaigners now encouraged to push for progress in other areas too.

The Independent is currently calling on ministers to implement a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups, for example, which are almost impossible to recycle effectively.

Outlining the new ban, which will be subject to a consultation starting later this year, the cabinet minister said: “Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife so it is vital we act now.

“We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on straws, stirrers and cotton buds to help protect our marine life.

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“We’ve already seen a number of retailers, bars and restaurants stepping up to the plate and cutting plastic use, however it’s only through government, businesses and the public working together that we will protect our environment for the next generation – we all have a role to play in turning the tide on plastic.”

Single-use plastic items such as straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds have a significant impact on the environment when they are either littered or discarded incorrectly after use.

Under the proposals, the sale of the items would be outlawed in England as part of the government’s 25-year environment plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.

Among businesses making headway on plastics is take-away company Deliveroo, which set out to give customers an opt out of receiving plastic cutlery, leading to a 91 per cent fall in their use.

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Deliveroo also said it will double the number of environmentally friendly straws offered to restaurants for free after 150,000 have already been given away to restaurants.

At the Commonwealth meeting this week the prime minister will urge all Commonwealth countries to sign-up to the newly-formed Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance and take action – either by banning microbeads, cutting down on single use plastic bags or other steps.

To drive this forward the ministers will commit £61.4m to boost global research and help other countries stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place.

Theresa May said: “The UK government is a world leader on this issue, and the British public have shown passion and energy embracing our plastic bag charge and microbead ban, and today we have put forward ambitious plans to further reduce plastic waste from straws, stirrers and cotton buds.”

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The prime minister added: “The Commonwealth is a unique organisation, with a huge diversity of wildlife, environments and coastlines.

“Together we can effect real change so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.”

Other announcements the government has made include a plan to abolish all plastic waste by 2040, banning plastic microbeads and implementing a 5p plastic bag charge, which led to nine billion fewer bags distributed, and last month’s pledge to introduce a deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers

The Treasury has also launched a call for evidence on how charges and changes to the tax system could be used to reduce single use plastics.

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