British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds could be banned under a new campaign to limit the use of single-use plastics.
The items could be ditched in England, with the prime minister announcing a consultation on a potential ban to launch later this year.
Currently, we get through 8.5 billion plastic straws every year in the UK, according to the government.
And as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) got underway in London on Thursday, May also urged leaders of all 53 Commonwealth nations to tackle plastic pollution.
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“Alongside our domestic action, this week we are rallying Commonwealth countries to join us in the fight against marine plastics,” she said, describing the UK as a “world leader” in the fight against plastic following the plastic bag tax and the ban on microbeads.
“The Commonwealth is a unique organisation, with a huge diversity of wildlife, environments, and coastlines,” she added. “Together we can effect real change so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.”
Environment secretary Michael Gove outlined the new proposed ban, saying: “Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife, so it is vital we act now.”
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“We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on straws, stirrers, and cotton buds to help protect our marine life,” he said.
He added that a number of retailers, bars, and restaurants are “stepping up to the plate and cutting plastic use.”
McDonald's, for example, announced in March that it will be phasing out plastic straws in the UK. It will start trialling paper straws across all 1,300 of its British outlets in May — and straws will also be kept behind the counter so people have to ask for one if they want one.
But, Gove said, "it’s only through government, businesses, and the public working together that we will protect our environment for the next generation — we all have a role to play in turning the tide on plastic.”
If the ban was brought in, the items couldn’t be sold in England. Campaigners are concerned, however, that the steps being taken, while welcome, aren’t enough.
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Julian Kirby, of Friends of the Earth, said the “only long-term solution is a complete phase-out of all but the most essential plastics.”
In Scotland, environment minister Roseanna Cunningham said earlier this year that a ban on plastic straws would be brought in, according to the BBC.
Prime Minister May is also calling on Commonwealth countries to join the newly-formed Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance — to which the UK has committed £61.4 million to develop new methods for cutting down on and cleaning up plastic waste.
The Queen formally opened the summit on Thursday at Buckingham Palace, where she was joined by other members of the Royal family.
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Sixty British music festivals also announced that they will be banning plastic straws this summer, and pledged to ditch all single-use plastic by 2021.
Rob Da Bank, co-founder of Bestival, said they were “leading the global charge against unnecessary plastic.”
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