By Adam Vaughan
The billions of plastic straws consumed in England each year will be banned from April 2020 as part of government efforts to protect marine life. Drinks stirrers and cotton buds will also be banned.
The ban was first floated by ministers more than a year ago, and it was originally planned to come into effect in 2019, rather than 2020.
Many cafes, bars and restaurants have already switched to alternatives made from paper, but the move should finally end the estimated annual use of 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
A consultation launched last October found overwhelming public support in the UK for a ban on the distribution and sale of the products.
“These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life,” environment secretary Michael Gove said in statement.
There will be exemptions, designed to help people who need plastic straws for medical reasons, after disability groups asked for them. Pharmacies can still sell plastic straws. Bars and restaurants can keep keep them behind counters to provide on request, but will be banned from actively offering them to customers. Use of plastic stemmed cotton buds in medical practice, scientific research and forensic police work will also be exempt. There are no exemptions for plastic drink stirrers.
Greenpeace welcomed the move, but says more is needed. “To really tackle the plastic crisis we need bigger, bolder action from this government – including targets to radically reduce the production of single-use plastics and an all-inclusive deposit return scheme,” says Sam Chetan-Welsh, a campaigner at the group.
Gove is yet to make a final decision on a “latte levy” charge for single use coffee cups, a deposit return scheme for drinks containers or a tax on single use plastic with less than 30 per cent recycled content.
If the UK remains a member of the European Union, even more single-use items, including cutlery and plates, will be banned by 2021, under measures agreed by the European Parliament.
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