Plastic straws and cotton buds to be banned next year in effort to tackle plastic pollution

22nd May 2019 | Recycling

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.”

In England, it is estimated we use 8.5 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds a year, according to government figures. 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 per cent 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.

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