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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Plans to ban plastic straws, cotton-buds, and stirrers

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Government launches plan to ban plastic straws, cotton-buds, and stirrers

An image of 5 coloured straws against a blue background.

There is widespread coverage this morning of the government’s plan to ban the distribution and sale of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds to protect our rivers and seas.

The plan is subject to a consultation launched today by Environment Secretary Michael Gove. 

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey was interviewed live by Sky News, LBC and appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire Show alongside Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Lucy Siegel.

The announcement has also been covered by Good Morning Britain and widely in today’s newspapers, including a mention on the front page of the Telegraph. Among the other titles to feature the story are The Express, The I, Mail OnlineThe Guardian, The Sun and The Independent.

Launching the consultation, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throw-away plastic items can cause.

In England we are taking world-leading action with our ban on microbeads, and thanks to the public’s support have taken over 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation with our 5p charge.

I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers. But we recognise 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.

In England, it is estimated that annually we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds. An estimated 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets and can end up in waterways and oceans.

We recognise there are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons and our consultation seeks views on how to ensure those who need straws for medical and accessibility reasons can still use them. For example, pharmacies will still be able to sell plastic straws and restaurants, pubs and bars will be able to stock some straws for use on request. The Government will work closely with stakeholders to ensure these exemptions are crafted exactly right.

Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire Show, Minister Coffey said:

One of the reason for the consultation is to get into the detail of some of the exemptions that we have highlighted, and we are aware of the needs of people with disabilities or medical needs, and why getting rid of plastic straws is not the answer for them. We need to find a solution on how we can make this ban effective so we can take plastic straws out of circulation.

The move has also been well received by environmental and hospitality groups.

Greenpeace UK’s political adviser Sam Chetan Welsh said:

Our society’s addiction to throwaway plastic is fuelling a global environmental crisis that must be tackled.

Ministers are doing the sensible thing by looking to ban single-use plastic items that can be easily replaced with better alternatives or that we can simply do without. But this should be just the start.

If we are to protect our oceans from the scourge of plastic, the flow of waste needs 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.

Kate Nicholls CEO of UKHospitality said:

We wholeheartedly welcome this consultation on an issue of vital importance and one which hospitality has already taken significant action.

Since UKHospitality’s Unpack the Future of Hospitality summit in the spring, thousands of pubs clubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK have changed their straws and stirrers to biodegradables, or adopted policies that cut or eliminate their use in their venues.

The Government is seeking views on how we can cut plastic waste and we look forward to continued engagement to play a part in achieving that goal.

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