Government takes action to ban plastic straws and drinks stirrers

Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed a ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England last Wednesday (May 22), following overwhelming public support for the move.

The ban will come into force in April 2020. It will include exemptions to ensure that those with medical needs or a disability are able to continue to access plastic straws.

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 automatically hand them out, but will be able to provide them on request.

The government said it believes this strikes the right balance between reducing environmental impact while protecting the rights of people with medical conditions and disabilities. It will carry out a stocktake after one year to assess the impact of these measures and whether the balance is correct.

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 I’m taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations. Even though non-plastic alternatives are readily available, it is estimated that 95% of straws are still plastic. Cleaning up the effects of littering costs local government millions of pounds every year, with costs also imposed on the tourism and fishing industries, and the effect of plastic pollution worrying 89% of people.”

Hugo Tagholm, ceo of Surfers Against Sewage commented: “We 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 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 of Muscular Dystrophy UK, added: “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. We would encourage Defra [Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs] to continue consulting disabled people to ensure we are not disadvantaged or targeted and stigmatised for using single-use plastics.”

The government has recently announced a range of measures to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste including a ban on microbeads; taking over 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation with its 5p plastic bag charge and plans to extend it to all retailers; and consulting on introducing a deposit return scheme to drive-up the recycling of drinks bottles and cans.

Earlier this year, the government launched a consultation on a tax on plastic packaging which does not contain a minimum of 30% recycled content from April 2022.

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