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Plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds will be banned from 2020

Plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers will be banned in England from 2020 in a bid to fight plastic waste.

From April next year, food and drink businesses won’t be allowed to display plastic straws nor will they be able to automatically hand them out. It is estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds and 316 million plastic stirrers are used each year in England. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed a ban on the supply of the items after receiving ‘overwhelming’ public support – more than 80 per cent – for the move.

There will be some exemptions, however, such as those who need plastic straws for medical reasons or disabilities. They will be available to buy from registered pharmacies, or they can be requested in restaurants, pubs and bars, with the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds only allowed for medical and scientific purposes.

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 is estimated there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean and every year one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. The government’s move comes after a consultation, published on Wednesday, revealed more than 80 per cent of respondents support a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws.

Meanwhile, 90 per cent back a ban on drink stirrers and 89 per cent for cotton buds. It was found 10 per cent of cotton buds are flushed down toilets, ending up in waterways and the sea and taking hundreds of years to break down, which damage marine ecosystems beyond repair. It is hoped millions of pounds could be saved annually on clean-up efforts of used plastics.


The announcement follows the Government’s ban on microbeads and the 5p charge on single-use plastic bags, which has seen distribution by major supermarkets drop by 86 per cent. Although environmental activists welcomed the ban, they said the Environment Secretary needed to do more to up recycling efforts and dramatically reduce the production of single-use plastics.

Greenpeace political campaigner, Sam Chetan-Welsh, said: ‘It’s been a long time coming, but we welcome the news that the Government is finally enforcing a ban on throwaway plastics like straws, cotton buds and stirrers.

The reality is though, that these bans only scratch the surface. ‘To really tackle the plastic crisis we need bigger bolder action from this Government, including targets to radically reduce the production of single-use plastics and an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for drinks containers.’

But Laura Foster, from the Marine Conservation Society, added: ‘While we strongly welcome today’s announcement, we now need Michael Gove to go further in moving to reduce plastic consumption overall and increase recycling rates, particularly with a fully inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles and glass.

‘It’s clear that the public mood has changed and what we need to see now is further action by retailers and the government to encourage a move against all single use plastic and to improve recycling.’ But Lauren West, from Muscular Dystrophy UK, said she was happy the Government recognised the needs of those with disabilities who rely on plastic straws.

She 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. ‘We’re pleased the Government has recognised this in its proposals put forward today.’

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