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UK government proposes ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers

  • Environment Secretary Michael Gove describes single-use plastics as a "scourge on our seas."
  • The U.K. government's actions reflect a wider shift in society, with many organizations looking to take action on plastic waste.
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Keily Hotchkin | EyeEm | Getty Images

The U.K. government has unveiled plans to ban the sale of plastic straws and drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

The proposal, which is subject to consultation, was announced Thursday at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.

Downing Street said in a statement that it would work with industry to develop alternatives and make sure there was enough time to adapt to the changes.

"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.

May added that her government was "rallying Commonwealth countries to join us in the fight against marine plastics, with £61.4 million ($87.1 million) funding for global research and to improve waste management in developing countries."

The issue of plastic waste in the world's oceans is a serious and pressing one. Europeans, for example, produce 25 million tons of plastic waste each year, according to the European Commission. Less than 30 percent of this is collected for recycling.

The U.K. government's action on straws, cotton buds and stirrers reflects a wider shift in society, with many organizations looking to take action on plastic waste.

Leading U.K. supermarket Iceland, which specializes in frozen food, has made a commitment to eliminate plastic packaging from its own brand products by 2023. The organizers of over 60 independent festivals in the U.K. have committed to banning the use of plastic straws on-site this summer, and have said they will get rid of all single-use plastic at events by 2021.

"Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife so it is vital we act now," Environment Secretary Michael 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."