Why are cotton buds, plastic straws and stirrers being banned in the UK?
A ban that stops businesses from handing out plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to customers comes into force in England today.
It is now illegal for businesses to give them out to customers, except for those with disabilities or medical conditions that mean they require plastic straws.
The ban was originally set to come into effect in April, but was delayed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
But why has it been put in place, and what will replace the (now) outlawed products?
Why are cotton buds, plastic straws and stirrers being banned in England?
Pre-lockdown, the UK was getting through almost five billion straws, 300 million plastic stirrers and 2 billion cotton buds every year, according to The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).
According to the WWF, it takes 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose.
Plastic straws were invented in 1888, which means that every single plastic straw that has ever been manufactured is still in existence, polluting our seas and killing our wildlife.
It is estimated there is over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste polluting the world’s oceans, and every year around a million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste, according to gov.uk.
Environment Secretary George Eustice says the Government is ‘firmly committed to tackling’ the problem of single-use plastics.
‘The ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds is just the next step in our battle against plastic pollution and our pledge to protect our ocean and the environment for future generations.
‘We are already a world-leader in this global effort. Our five-pence charge on single-use plastic bags has successfully cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets, we have banned microbeads, and we are building plans for a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers.’
What will replace cotton buds, plastic straws, and stirrers?
There are plenty of environmentally-friendly alternatives to the outlawed plastic products.
Businesses may hand out things like paper straws, wooden cotton buds, and wood stirrers.
McDonald’s, which provides nearly 2 million straws for customers every day, banned plastic straws last year and instead uses paper straws, and has pledged to stop giving out plastic toys in 2021.
You can also buy your own reusable products, such as metal or glass straws and bamboo cotton buds.
People have already become accustomed to reusing plastic shopping bags, or buying cotton tote bags since a charge of 5p was placed on plastic bags – a charge which will be doubled to 10p in April 2021 in England.
Scotland banned these products in October 2019, and Northern Ireland and Wales have both pledged to ban them by 2021.
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