Announced at the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, the plan will see Government work with industry and businesses to develop alternatives to the items and ensure there is sufficient time to adapt to any phase-out. Some uses of plastic straws could be exempt from the ban due to medical reasons.

“Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world, which is why protecting the marine environment is central to our agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting,” Prime Minister Theresa May said.

“The UK government is a world leader on this issue, and the British public have shown passion and energy embracing our plastic bag charge and microbead ban, and today we have put forward ambitious plans to further reduce plastic waste from straws, stirrers and cotton buds.”

The Prime Minister called on other Commonwealth nations to join the fight against plastic pollution by signing up to a newly-formed Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance and backed the ambition with a £61.4m research investment to help nations stop plastics from entering marine environments. In the UK, for example, around 8.5 billion plastic straws are discarded annually.

A 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 150 million tonnes of plastic littering the oceans globally.

Marine protection

Earlier this month, Defra secretary Michael Gove publicly backed the StirCrazy initiative to eradicate plastic disposable drinks stirrers by 2020. Gove believes the number of businesses that have agreed to stop selling or using plastic straws and stirrers will help spur further action.

“Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife so it is vital we act now,” Gove said. “We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on straws, stirrers and cotton buds to help protect our marine life.

“We’ve already seen a number of retailers, bars and restaurants stepping up to the plate and cutting plastic use, however it’s only through government, businesses and the public working together that we will protect our environment for the next generation – we all have a role to play in turning the tide on plastic.”

A consultation is expected later this year which will align ambitions to the 25 Year Environment Plan ambition to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. It builds on the consultation announced to discuss how a deposit return scheme for plastic containers would be utilised in England.

In related news, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson looks set to announce a £9m funding scheme running for the next two years to help Commonwealth Small Island Developing states (SIDS) use their marine resources to grow their economies in a sustainable manner.

Matt Mace

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