Defra has launched a consultation on its plan to ban plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds as part of the war on single-use plastics.
The consultation, which will run for six weeks, follows an announcement of plans for a ban on the distribution and sale of certain single-use plastics by Theresa May in April.
Launching the consultation, environment secretary Michael Gove acknowledged commitments already made by retailers, bars and restaurants to remove plastic straws and stirrers but said the government recognised the 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,” said Gove.
The consultation launched in the same week that the European Parliament voted to ban a range of plastic products including straws, plates and cutlery, and introduce reduction targets for other products such as plastic cups. The UK would have to incorporate the ban into national law should a Brexit transition arrangement be ongoing when an EU directive comes into effect.
In England alone it is estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used every year.
Greenpeace said ministers were doing the sensible thing by looking to ban single-use plastic items that can be easily replaced with better alternatives, but said a ban should just be 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. 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,” said Greenpeace UK’s political adviser Sam Chetan Welsh.
Environmental consultancy Resource Futures was contracted by Defra to produce a preliminary assessment of the economic, environmental and social impacts of a ban on plastics use. It said its research indicated that some types of single use plastics, such as cotton buds, are unnecessary and should probably be removed from the market, but this is not necessarily the case for all types of plastics. In the case of drinking straws, it recommended that further consultation is needed because there are not immediately available plastic-free functional alternatives for certain types of straws.
Resources Future is currently finalising a similar impact assessment for Defra relating to a potential ban on plastic cutlery, plastic plates and plastic balloon sticks.
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said that since its Unpack the Future of Hospitality summit in the spring, thousands of pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK have changed their straws and stirrers to biodegradables, or adopted policies that cut or eliminate their use in their venues.
Any future ban would include a provision to allow operators to continue to stock some straws for medical or other accessibility reasons.