From today (1 October) it is illegal for businesses to supply plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to customers.
The ban on supplying plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds has come into force today (Thursday 1 October) in an effort to ‘protect the environment and clean up our oceans’, the UK government says.
It is estimated we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England every year, many of which find their way into the ocean.
It is hoped banning the supply of these items will protect marine wildlife and contribute to the goal of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste, as set out in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
Single-use plastics cause real devastation to the environment and this government is firmly committed to tackling this issue head on.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Single-use plastics cause real devastation to the environment and this government is firmly committed to tackling this issue head on.
“We are already a world-leader in this global effort. Our 5p charge on single-use plastic bags has successfully cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets, we have banned microbeads, and we are building plans for a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers.
“The ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds is just the next step in our battle against plastic pollution and our pledge to protect our ocean and the environment for future generations.”
Disabled people and those with medical conditions will be able to request a plastic straw when visiting a pub or restaurant and purchase them from pharmacies.
It is estimated that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean globally every year, which has produced many scenes of marine wildlife being injured or killed by plastic waste.
The UK is leading on a wide programme of overseas engagements, including through the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance and the Commonwealth Litter Programme, aiming to prevent plastic waste from reaching the ocean in the first place.
The government says is also committed to launching a ‘£500 million Blue Planet Fund’ to protect the ocean from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing.
In 2017 we found an average of 31 cotton bud sticks per 100 metres of beach, and in 2019 we found just eight on beaches in England. This reflects that many companies have already made the switch away from plastic
Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “It’s fantastic news that the ban on plastic cotton bud sticks, stirrers and straws is now in place.
“The results of our annual Great British Beach Clean have shown a decrease in cotton bud sticks littering British beaches.
“In 2017 we found an average of 31 cotton bud sticks per 100 metres of beach, and in 2019 we found just eight on beaches in England. This reflects that many companies have already made the switch away from plastic, in cotton buds and other items, something we need to see more companies doing.”
The ban comes ahead of the government’s plan to introduce a tax on plastic packaging which does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content from April 2022 to encourage greater use of recycled plastic.
Tougher measures needed
But the environmental campaign group, Friends of the Earth, has warned that ‘far tougher’ measures are needed to stem the flow of plastic pollution and is urging the government to include legally binding plastic reduction targets in its Environment Bill.
Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner, Siôn Elis Williams, said: “The ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds is welcome news, but these items are just a fraction of the plastic rubbish that pours into our environment and threatens our wildlife.
The government must get tougher on plastic with short and longer term targets that are legally binding in its Environment Bill
“The government must get tougher on plastic with short and longer term targets that are legally binding in its Environment Bill, currently passing through Parliament. What is then needed is a strong framework to check that standards have been met, in doing these things there is a hope of stemming the tide of plastic pollution.
“Ministers must also do more to challenge our throwaway culture by forcing a shift away from all single-use materials in favour of reusable alternatives.
“It’s time to put the planet first and end wasteful over-consumption.”