The government has banned some single-use plastic items from sale and use in England from April next year. The Scottish and Welsh governments are also considering similar measures. But campaigners say it’s not enough and more needs to be done, British media report.
The measure will only see a complete ban on plastic drink stirrers; currently, 316 million are used annually in the UK.
Plastic stemmed cotton buds will be banned from sale to the general public but will be available for use in medical and forensic laboratories. The Department for the Environment Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates that 1.8 billion cotton buds are thrown away every year in England and find their way into the sea and into the food chain once they have been broken down.
Plastic straws will no longer be handed out or displayed in bars, restaurants or supermarkets, but will be available if people ask for them. This is because disability groups successfully led a campaign that for some people with disabilities, plastic straws are essential and that people would be at risk of dehydration if they were completely banned. Registered pharmacies will also be allowed to sell them online and over the counter.
The new legislation is set to see the annual use of plastic straws in the UK drop from 4.7 billion to 44 million.
The Scottish government is planning to restrict the use of plastic straws and plastic cotton buds by the end of 2019, while the Welsh government is also considering similar measures. The EU will ban a more comprehensive list of single-use plastic items from 2021, including plastic cutlery and plastic plates.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has promised to take tough measures to protect the environment from cutting carbon emissions to overhauling UK farming.
Mr. Gove said: “Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution. These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down.”
A Welcome Move, But Not Enough
Campaigners welcomed the move but said it didn’t go far enough. Surfers Against Sewage were the most positive and said, “it’s a really positive and bold step in the right direction against plastic pollution.”
But Emma Priestland from Friends of the Earth warned that these three single-use items were just a tiny fraction of a much bigger problem.
“These three items are 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. Ultimately, we need producers to take responsibility for the plastic pollution caused by all their products, whether it’s bags, balloons, packets, containers or otherwise. That’s why we’re campaigning for legislation to cut back on pointless plastic across the board,” she told UK media.
While the WWF has called for a ban on all single use plastics by 2025 and has said governments need to “really ramp up their commitments”.