England to ban plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds from 2020

PLASTIC straws, drinks stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds are to be banned in England from next year, following an open consultation.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed the ban will come into force in April 2020, following ‘overwhelming’ public support for the move. The UK Government’s response to the consultation reveals over 80% of respondents back a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% on drinks stirrers, and 89% a ban on cotton buds.

The UK Government has ensured that those that require a plastic straw 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 hand them out but 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.

A stocktake will be carried out after one year to assess the impact of these measures, the UK Government said.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove commented, “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.”

It is estimated that 95% of straws used are plastic, despite non-plastic alternatives being available.

Hugh Tagholm, CEO at environmental charity 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.”

Lauren West, Trailblazers manager at 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. While we appreciate the need to reduce the use of plastics, traditional single-use straws are essential for some disabled people.

“If disabled people cannot access plastic straws when out it could put their health at risk as they may not be able to drink and could become dehydrated. We’re pleased the Government has recognised this in its proposals put forward today. We would encourage Defra to continue consulting disabled people and groups like Trailblazers to ensure we are not disadvantaged or targeted and stigmatised for using single-use plastics.”

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) welcomed the move. In a statement the UK trade association for the plastics industry said, “The BPF strongly supports reduction measures that ensure that straws, cotton buds and stirrers are only used when strictly necessary and that allow those who really benefit from particular items to retain access to them. Regardless of the material straws, cotton buds or stirrers are made from, they have an environmental cost and need to be disposed of responsibly.”