Single-use plastics clampdown moves forward

Removing single-use plastics from the supply chain has taken a step forward with legislation to ban the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds being brought to parliament under the Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020. The law is due to be debated and approved in the coming months.

Single-use plastics are products made wholly or partly of plastic, that are intended to be used once, or for a short period of time, before being discarded. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), UK consumers use 4.6bn plastic straws, 316m plastic stirrers and 1.8bn plastic-stemmed cotton buds every year – around 10% of which end up in waterways and oceans as a result of being flushed down toilets.

The government first confirmed in May 2019 that it would implement a ban, following a public consultation the previous autumn that indicated a groundswell of support for the move. The ban will include exceptions for those with medical needs or a disability, who may need to use straws, and registered pharmacies will be allowed to sell plastic straws over the counter or online. There will also be an exemption for the scientific use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds, to cover use in medical practice, scientific research and forensics.  

The new proposed ban is one of a series of measures to get rid of avoidable plastic waste, underpinned by the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy for England. The strategy aims to lay out a way to preserve resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a circular economy, with actions so far including a microbead ban and the introduction of a 5p charge on supermarket plastic bags – a policy that has reduced usage by 90 per cent.

It also recently consulted on the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, with the intention of collecting 77 per cent of single-use plastic bottles placed on the market (measured by weight) by 2025, and 90 per cent by 2029. 

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We must turn the tide on the widespread use of single-use plastics and the threat they pose to our natural environments. Our ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds is yet another measure to clamp down on unnecessary plastic so we can better protect our precious wildlife and leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”

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