The UK Government has announced plans to ban the distribution and sale of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds. A public consultation has been launched by the environment secretary Michael Gove to tackle the 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds used in England in a single year.
The ban would come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020, subject to the views collected during the six-week consultation, although exemptions may be allowed for medical and other reasons.
An estimated 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets and can end up in waterways and oceans. Gove said: ‘Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throw-away plastic items can cause.
‘I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers. But we recognise we need to do more. Today we step-up our efforts to turn the tide on plastic pollution and ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it.
Move to circular economy
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK, said the proposed ban marked ‘the end of a disposable culture that ends up harming us all with waste and pollution and the start of a revolution towards a circular, sustainable economy’.
He predicted consumers would be willing to support it in the same way that the 5p charge on plastic bags had changed behaviour. He added: ‘We now need to move to extended producer responsibility schemes to meet the overwhelming public appetite to reduce litter and environmental pollution and help us to reuse and recycle more of what we consume.
‘Next, we need an enlightened approach to increasing the financial burden placed on the use of virgin materials, while reducing that burden for higher recycled content.’
More action urged
Greenpeace UK’s political adviser Sam Chetan Welsh said: ‘Ministers are doing the sensible thing by looking to ban single-use plastic items that can be easily replaced with better alternatives or that we can simply do without. But this should be just the start.
‘If we are to protect our oceans from the scourge of plastic, the flow of waste needs to be cut off at the tap. And that means the companies producing and selling all this packaging must take responsibility for it and cut down the amount of plastic ending up in our shopping baskets.’