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Plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers banned in England from today

Written by on 1 October 2020

A delayed ban stopping businesses from handing out plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to customers comes into force today in England.

April had been the original deadline for the new legislation, which stops the sale and distribution of the single-use plastic items. But, coming in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and given its impact on supply chains, the government decided to postpone the ban until now.

From today, it is illegal in almost all circumstances for businesses to give them out to customers with exemptions in place to protect disabled people and those with medical conditions who require plastic straws.

Despite the delay, Environment Secretary George Eustice says Number 10 is “firmly committed to tackling” the problem of single-use plastics.

“The ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds is just the next step in our battle against plastic pollution and our pledge to protect our ocean and the environment for future generations.

“We are already a world-leader in this global effort. Our five-pence charge on single-use plastic bags has successfully cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets, we have banned microbeads, and we are building plans for a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers.”

Pre-pandemic, Defra says the UK was getting through almost five billion straws annually, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion cotton buds.

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While it’s a step in the right direction, green campaigners like John Read, founder of Clean Up Britain, argue it’s the tip of the iceberg.

“I think the government do deserve some credit for nudging people’s behaviour in the right direction but actually when you look at it, it’s really more piecemeal and symbolic than anything else.

“We need to change people’s behaviour in a sustainable and permanent way, we need to see a national behavioural change campaign and that’s what we haven’t got in this country at the moment.

“People have got to understand that when they throw away plastic straws, hamburger packets, crisp packets, it’s all their own personal pollution… so people understand that they’re doing the damage to the environment.”

Sadly there’s now a new villain in town: disposable PPE.

Worn once, unable to be recycled, single-use by design.

Image:
A gull with a disposable face mask tangled around its legs

The RSPCA’s Head of Wildlife Adam Grogan says the charity is increasingly being called out to animals who’re getting caught up in it.

“We are seeing an increase in numbers of animals getting caught up in things like masks… they’ve got their legs or other parts of their bodies entangled in things like the elastic bands that go over the ears.

“This proposed legislation coming in about singe use plastics should help us to refocus on the fact that the pandemic has created another set of single use items that actually we don’t need to use, especially we can use reusable items a lot of the time.”