© Natasha Ewins

Single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton bud sticks banned in England from today

By: Victoria Riglen
Date posted: 1 October 2020

From today it is illegal for businesses to supply single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to customers in England as the government’s ban comes into force. The long awaited ban, which had been delayed for six months, will slow the tide of plastic polluting the UK’s beaches.

Plastic straws found on beachclean
© Natasha Ewins
Cotton bud sticks on Sand Beach
© B Chapman

These small single-use plastic items are commonly found polluting British beaches at our annual Great British Beach Clean, but there are signs the tide is turning. In 2017 we found an average of 31 cotton bud sticks per 100m of beach, in 2019 we found just 8 per 100m on beaches in England. This reflects a movement by many companies which are looking for alternatives to single-use plastic products, and it’s making a difference.

We hope that the wider ban will have a similarly noticeable impact on the litter we see on UK beaches.

It is estimated we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England every year, many of which find their way into our ocean. By banning the supply of these items, we can further protect our marine wildlife and move one step closer to eliminating avoidable plastic waste.

While making this important step to help the environment, disabled people and those with medical conditions will also be protected, and will be able to request a plastic straw when visiting a pub or restaurant and purchase them from pharmacies.

Plastic cotton bud sticks often find their way to the coast as a result of being disposed of incorrectly, with people opting to flush them rather than throw them in the bin. No matter where you live, your actions can, and do, have a lasting impact on the health of our seas.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said:

“It’s fantastic news that the ban on plastic cotton bud sticks, stirrers and straws is now in place. The results of our annual Great British Beach Clean have shown a decrease in cotton bud sticks littering British beaches.

“In 2017 we found an average of 31 cotton bud sticks per 100 metres of beach, and in 2019 we found just eight on beaches in England. This reflects that many companies have already made the switch away from plastic, in cotton buds and other items, something we need to see more companies doing.

“Only with ambitious policy and forward-thinking brands and companies, can we truly stop the plastic tide.”

We hope the government continues to make ambitious steps to reducing plastic waste entering the ocean. It’s important that the implementation of an all-inclusive Deposit Return Scheme is prioritised; in order to turn the tide on plastic waste we must move to a circular economy, where ‘throwaway culture’ is a thing of the past.

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