The UK government has announced that, from April next year, it will be banning the sale of drink-stirrers, cotton buds and plastic straws; a move that has been on the table for over a year.

It is hoped that this ban will reduce the little and other environmental impacts created by the nearly 5 billion plastic straws that the UK currently uses each year, along with 300 million plastic straws and nearly 20 billion cotton buds with plastic stems.

Large numbers of these items are flushed down toilets or end up in litter, contributing to the UK’s problem of plastics in its waters.

Environmentalists may rejoice, but others are more critical.

In this article, we answer some of the questions you may have about the plastic straw ban:

When does the ban come into effect?

April 2020

What are the alternatives to plastic?

  • Serve drinks without straws or stirrers
  • Using paper straws and biodegradable products

Are there any exceptions to the ban?

The new rule won’t apply to people with a disability or medical need. Plastic straws and other materials will be available to them on request.

What about the EU?

The EU is also moving to phase out plastics in various forms:

  • Registered pharmacies will be permitted to sell plastic straws, both over the counter and online.
  • Pubs, restaurants and other catering establishments will not be allowed to provide plastic straws automatically or put them on display.

Demand for the ban

A government consultation found that:

  • 80% of respondents supported a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws
  • 9 out of 10 people wanted a ban on drink stirrers
  • A similar number supported a ban on plastic-handled cotton buds

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution. These items are often used for just a few minutes, but take hundreds of years to break down.”

How has the ban been received?

Campaigners have welcomed the UK government’s move:

  • “It’s a really positive and bold step in the right direction against plastic pollution.” – Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage
  • “These three items are just a fraction of the single-use nasties that are used for a tiny amount of time before polluting the environment for centuries to come.” – Emma Priestland, campaigner at Friends of the Earth

Sceptics feel that:

  • The ban has come as a result of several years of high-profile, emotive and misleading campaigns on the plastic waste problem.
  • The government has more pressing priorities (like Brexit).
  • The amount of plastic waste from Britain that finds its way into the ocean directly is vastly over-stated.
  • Since many countries have stopped accepting ‘recycling’ from the UK, this has left the nation with a problem on their hands; politicians would sooner blame the public for its ‘excessive’ plastic use than deal with the waste export problem.
  • Government want to be seen as politicians with visions and purpose, hence the ban on plastic items.

What are other alternatives to a ban?

  • Incineration – the heat generated from incineration can even be used to generate electricity.
  • Upgrading water-treatment plants – allowing for better capture of plastic and other items.

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