UK government announces plans to ban plastic straws, cotton-buds, and stirrers

  • The ban is subject to a consultation and would be enforced at some point between October 2019 and October 2020.
  • The U.K. government has already banned microbeads and introduced a charge on single use plastic bags.
Colorful cotton swabs arranged in a cup
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The U.K. government has laid out plans to prohibit the distribution and sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.

The ban, which is subject to a consultation launched Monday, would be enforced "at some point between October 2019 and October 2020".

In England alone, the government said that people use an estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds per year.

The environmental impact of using such items is significant, with the government stating that they take hundreds of years to break down. It added that there were more than 150 million tons of plastic in the planet's oceans.

The government said its proposed ban would contain some exemptions and noted that there were scenarios where the use of plastic straws was necessary for medical and accessibility reasons.

Citing one example, it said pharmacies would be allowed to sell plastic straws, while bars, pubs and restaurants would be able to stock "some straws for use on request." Authorities are to work with stakeholders to make sure that exemptions are "crafted exactly right."

The U.K. government has launched several initiatives aimed at tackling the pollution caused by plastic, including a ban on microbeads and a charge on single use plastic bags.

"Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throw-away plastic items can cause," Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a statement Monday.

"I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers," Gove went on to add. "But we recognize we need to do more. 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."

The proposals were welcomed by environmental organizations. Sam Chetan Welsh, Greenpeace U.K.'s political adviser, said ministers were doing the sensible thing by looking to ban single-use plastic items, but added that if oceans were to be protected from the "scourge of plastic" then the flow of waste needed 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," Chetan Welsh added.