A consultation into how the Government can best work with industry and businesses to develop alternatives to the items and ensure there is sufficient time to adapt to any phase-out has been launched today, with businesses and members of the public given until 3 December to respond.

The consultation announcement confirms that ministers intend to introduce a ban on the distribution and sale of the items to help eliminate the 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds sent to landfill in the UK annually from the nation’s waste streams.

It states that such a ban would come into effect between October 2019 and October 2020, subject to the results of the consultation, with some uses of plastic straws set be exempt from the ban due to medical reasons.

“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,” Environment Secretary Michael Gove said.

“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.”

Plastic policies

decline in plastic bags found in the seas around the UK has been linked to the introduction of charges for plastic bags and the UK Government hopes similar interventions for straws and stirrers will limit additions to the eight million tonnes of plastic estimated to be finding its way into oceans annually.

Gove additionally highlighted the new ban as a follow-up to the Government’s ban on the manufacture of certain products containing plastic microbeads, which came into effect in January 2018.

The move to consult on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds was welcomed by Greenpeace UK’s political adviser Sam Chetan Welsh, who said it was the “sensible thing” to do as the war on plastic wages on.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Business action

With consumer awareness around the 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans piquing in the wake of the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 series, dozens of big-name businesses across the UK have already stopped selling or distributing plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds on a voluntary basis in recent times.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), for example, last week announced a plan to remove plastic straws from its global estate of more than 5,400 hotels by the end of 2019, following similar moves by the likes of HiltonHotel du Vin and AccorHotels.

Elsewhere, retailers including Ikea and Waitrose have moved to remove packs of plastic straws from their stores, while London City Airport, Heathrow and Eurostar have committed to removing them from their transport hubs in some shape or form. 

As for cotton buds, bans have been implemented in recent months by the likes of hotelier Malmaison, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op.

Sarah George

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