Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds now illegal in England

From today (1 October) it is illegal for businesses to supply plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to customers.

England uses 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds annually.

With concerning statistics showing that ocean plastic could triple over the next twenty years, these have sparked several political campaigns seeking to combat the plastics crisis.

Plastic pollution campaign group City to Sea has already dubbed the ban “just a drop in a very plastic polluted ocean” and urged the government to take more drastic measures to reduce plastic waste.

Exemptions are in place to protect disabled people and those with medical conditions who require plastic straws. Those exempt will be able to request plastic straws when visiting a pub or restaurant and purchase them from pharmacies.

In 2017, the United Nations embarked on a global campaign to eliminate the major sources of marine plastic pollution by 2022.

Though the ban comes six months later than planned, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) postponing the ban due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the UK Government has been introducing initiatives to combat the plastics crisis.

Recent government actions on plastics include a ban on microbeads, consulting on introducing a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers, and committing to a ban on the export of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries.

As announced recently, the 5p charge on single-use bags will be doubled to 10p and extended to all retailers from April 2021.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Single-use plastics cause real devastation to the environment and this government is firmly committed to tackling this issue head on.
“We are already a world-leader in this global effort. Our 5p charge on single-use plastic bags has successfully cut sales by 95 per cent in the main supermarkets, we have banned microbeads, and we are building plans for a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers.

“The ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds is just the next step in our battle against plastic pollution and our pledge to protect our ocean and the environment for future generations.”

When the idea to ban plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds was originally proposed in 2018, Friends of the Earth welcomed the move. However, the charity also warned that the only long-term solution to the plastic overwhelming the world’s oceans is a “complete phase-out of all but the most essential plastics”.