Plastic straws, cotton buds, and drink stirrers could be banned in the UK by the end of 2019, according to an announcement on Monday.
The government has launched a public consultation on the issue of single-use plastics, recognising that “we need to do more.”
In England alone, each year, the public gets through 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds, according to the government statement.
And as well as the damage plastic waste is doing to the environment, these single-use items are also costing the UK economy. According to the government, cleaning up the effects of littering costs local government millions of pounds every year.
“Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throw-away plastic items can cause,” said Michael Gove, the UK’s environment secretary. “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,” he said.
Plans to ban plastic straws have sparked concerns among disability campaigners, because some people rely on them to help them eat and drink more independently and safely. And the government says it recognises this as an issue that also needs to be addressed.
The consultation will seek views “on how to ensure those who need straws for medical and accessibility reasons can still use them.”
One example it gives is that pharmacies could still be able to sell plastic straws and restaurants, pubs, and bars could still be able to stock some straws for use on request.
Today we are stepping-up our efforts to turn the tide on plastics by launching a consultation on the ban of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.— Defra UK (@DefraGovUK) October 22, 2018
Take part in our consultation and have your say: https://t.co/J7L3Ao1xeN#PassOnPlastic#DrowningInPlasticpic.twitter.com/JoIobUXGY3
Globally, it’s estimated that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans and, every year, around a million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating plastic, or getting tangled in it.
“Our society’s addiction to throwaway plastic is fuelling a global environmental crisis that must be tackled,” said Sam Chetan Welsh, political adviser for Greenpeace.
“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,” he said. “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,” he said. “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.”
Depending on the answers the government receives on the consultation, the distribution and sale of plastic straws would become illegal some time between October 2019 and October 2020.