Government to ban and restrict single-use plastic items

Bans and strict controls on single-use plastic items from next April to curb ocean pollution have been announced by the Government.

There will be total ban on plastic drinks stirrers – currently 316 million are thrown away every year – while strong limits will be placed on plastic straws and plastic cotton buds in England.

The move to reduce the amount of plastic in our seas and oceans follows extensive consultation with business interests and the wider public from last December.

The government stopped short of an outright ban on plastic straws but placed severe limits on their sale with supermarkets and shops not allowed to sell them. However, registered pharmacies will stock them, following appeals by disabled groups underlining that they are essential for many people with disabilities. They will also be available online.

And while bars and restaurants will not be permitted to display plastic straws or generally hand them out, they will be able to provide them if people ask.

4.7 billion straws

The Government estimates that the move will reduce current annual use of 4.7 billion straws to 44 million.

At the same time, plastic-stemmed cotton buds are banned from general sale but will still be available for use in laboratories and by forensic scientists. Defra estimates that 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used and thrown away every year in England.

The Marine Conservation Society says that it has found on average 17 cotton buds for every 100 metres of beach in England. It urged the Government to do more to reduce plastic consumption and increase recycling rates.

The lengthy consultation period was designed to allow with industry and businesses to develop alternatives to the items and ensure there is sufficient time to adapt to the phase-out.

Michael Gove, Environment Secretary said:

“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. I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations.

“I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers -but we recognise we need to do more. Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throw-away plastic items can cause.”

The move on single-use plastics comes two years after the dramatic Blue Planet II documentary series, in which Sir David Attenborough presented a grim picture of the severe damage to marine life, which at the time Michael Gove said had haunted him, and he promised to take action to set “gold standards on protecting the natural world”.

Full phase-out

While welcoming the action on plastics, environmental groups urged the Government to do more with the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) urging a full phase out of single-use items. It also warned that replacements made with alternative materials might still be harmful.

Maddy Haughton-Boakes, Litter Campaigner at the (CPRE), said :

“While it is fantastic news that the Government has taken such decisive action over plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds, we are deeply disappointed that Michael Gove hasn’t taken this opportunity to ban these unnecessary items all together, whatever the material.”

Both the Scottish and Welsh governments are taking action or considering similar measures, while the European Union adopted a plan earlier this week to ban by 2021 a longer list of single-use plastic items including:

  • sticks for balloons
  • cutlery
  • plates
  • straws
  • cotton buds
  • drink stirrers
  • oxo-degradable plastic products
  • expanded polystyrene cups, food and beverage containers.

The EU says the move in two years’ time will cut CO2 emissions by 3.4 million tonnes annually, avoid environmental damages costing €22 billion by 2030 and save consumers a €6.5 billion.

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said:

“When we have a situation where one year you can bring your fish home in a plastic bag, and the next year you are bringing that bag home in a fish, we have to work hard and work fast. We have taken a big stride towards reducing the amount of single-use plastic items in our economy, our ocean and ultimately our bodies.”

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