Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to be banned in England by 2020

Photo by: Dutourdumonde / Adobe Pictures

The UK government has revealed a ground-breaking ban which will see the end of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds on the high street in England from next April.

The move is a key step in the Government’s strategy to tackle single-use plastic, as shocking statistics highlight the amount of plastic being consumed by the British public.

From the 4.7 billion plastic straws used annually, to the 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds which are thrown out every year, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) hopes it will address a small part of the plastic pollution problem here in Britain.

The announcement comes after a recent open consultation on the issue (published today), in which they found that 80% of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% a ban on cotton buds.

Following the news, Environment Secretary Michael 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.”

It has been outlined that the ban will include exemptions to ensure that those with medical needs or a disability are able to continue to access plastic straws – something which has been fully-supported by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).

While they applaud the ban of plastic straws, they stress that one injustice cannot lead to another, and, as there are not suitable alternatives for those with medical needs, exemptions must be included.

However, the ban is still a key victory in the plastic pollution fight – and though 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 them or automatically hand them out, unless a customer requests one.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of SAS, 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.”

The announcement of the ban comes at a timely moment, following SAS’s recent publication of its biggest brand plastic pollution audit, which was collated with data gathered from thousands of volunteers taking part in the Big Spring Beach Clean events across the UK earlier this year.

Within it, 32.2% of the unbranded litter found was made up of cotton buds – more than any other unbranded item picked up during the cleans – while plastic straws made up another 1.4%.

The former statistic may come as little surprise, as DEFRA estimates that 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets, therefore easily making their way into our local waterways and oceans.

However, while these will be included in the 2020 ban, there will be an exemption in place to allow the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds for medical and scientific purposes.

For general use, though, SAS has stressed that the cotton bud ban should be immediate, as highlighted in its original submission to Government.

Within the document, the charity stated: “…paper alternatives to plastic stemmed cotton buds are widely available and have seen significant levels of adoption.

“The ban should be introduced without any time delay…as the additional 1.8 billion plastic cotton buds that would be used as a result from delaying another year are entirely avoidable”.

Today’s announcement is the first step in the Government’s plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste, as underpinned by its recently published landmark Resources and Waste Strategy.

But you can make sure they make a real difference by joining #GenerationSea – a petition calling on MPs to take stronger action ahead of the new Environmental Bill post-Brexit.

To join, click here.


Article written by Hazel Murray on behalf of Surfers Against Sewage