Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds could be banned within a year

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 22 October 2018

The government has set out its plan to ban the distribution and sale of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds as part of a move to cut pollution and protect rivers and seas.

Plastic straws found on beachclean
© Natasha Ewins

Action is needed much more widely than on these three items alone if we are to address the widespread plastic pollution crisis.

Sandy Luk,
MCS Chief Executive Officer

The government says it wants to ban their distribution and sale to try and force businesses to offer readily available non-plastic alternatives.

It’s estimated that annually, 4.7 billion plastic straws alone are used in England, However, because plastic straws can be necessary for medical reasons, exemptions will be included in any legislation.

316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are also used annually in England with an estimated 10% of cotton buds flushed down toilets and ending up in our waterways, on our beaches and then the sea. Even though non-plastic alternatives are readily available, these single-use plastic items are still heavily used - often for just a few minutes - yet they take hundreds of years to break down.

Sandy Luk, Chief Executive of the Marine Conservation Society says: “This consultation does deliver on the commitment Theresa May made earlier this year to address these specific items, but won’t in itself halt the underlying issue of over-production and widespread use of plastic products and packaging.

“We need the government to take decisive action quickly, on its promise to bring in taxes or levies on single-use plastics, and a comprehensive deposit return scheme for containers (on which Scotland already has a head start). Action is needed much more widely than on these three items alone if we are to address the widespread plastic pollution crisis”.

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.”

The ban would come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020, subject to the views collected during consultation.

Actions you can take

  1. Visit the beachwatch website
  2. Download straw graphic for cafe/bar counter
  3. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  4. Share #stopsucking
  5. Refuse straws at your local restaurant/bar
  6. Organise a beach clean
  7. Download our straw poster
  8. Join a beach clean

Did you know?…

MCS launched its Beachwatch programme in 1994

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded almost 50% fewer bags on beaches

To date, our beach cleans have removed over 11 million pieces of litter


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