UK government confirms ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton swabs

"So today I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations."


A date has been set by the United Kingdom government to ban the sale of single-use plastic. Come April 2020, plastic straws, drinking stirrers and cotton swabs made with plastic will be banned in the country.

While plastic drink stirrers will be entirely banned, both swabs and straws will have exceptions – medical reasons and/or scientific reasons. The U.K. government issued this statement on their straw policy:

There are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons and the government will therefore ensure that those that need to use plastic straws for medical reasons can still access them. Registered pharmacies will be allowed to sell plastic straws over the counter or online. Catering establishments such as restaurants, pubs and bars will not be able to display plastic straws or automatically hand them out, but they will be able to provide them on request. The government believes this strikes the right balance between reducing environmental impact while protecting the rights of people with medical conditions and disabilities. The government will carry out a stocktake after one year to assess the impact of these measures and whether the balance is correct.

U.K. Environment Secretary Michael Gove and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed the ban in a tweet.

The U.K. government found out during it’s research for the single-use plastic ban that citizens use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds each year, Common Dreams reported.

“Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment,” Gove said. “These items are often used for just a few minutes, but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life.”

While this is just “a fraction of the single-use nasties that are used for a tiny amount of time before polluting the environment for centuries to come,” The Guardian reported, environmental groups applauded the ban and added that plastic production needs to be tackled at the source.

“To really tackle the plastic crisis we need bigger, bolder action from this government – including targets to radically reduce production of single-use plastics,” Greenpeace UK said in a tweet.

The ban on these single-use plastic items comes after the U.K. government passed a world-leading ban on microbeads and 5p charge on single-use plastic bags, which has seen distribution by major supermarkets drop by 86%, according to a statement by the U.K. government.

“So today I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations,” Dove said.


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