Plastic straws won’t be banned until October

A ban on plastic straws and stirrers in England has been pushed back by six months.

A memo sent by Defra to companies this week, and seen by the FT, said “supply chain disruption due to the Covid-19 outbreak may make sourcing alternatives to single-use plastics challenging”. The delay was therefore a temporary measure, with the government still “absolutely committed” to tackling single-use plastics.

Footprint reported back in January that a delay was likely after Defra started briefing that a summer deadline was more realistic. The coronavirus crisis has now postponed the ban further.

The Environment Audit Committee said the move was disappointing. Chairman Philip Dunne said he understood coronavirus should rightly be dominating government resources but the ban was a “relatively straightforward step” to protect the environment.

Campaigners are also concerned that the government is beginning to row back on its commitments relating to single-use plastics.

“This delayed ban was the government’s first-step in implementing the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive, and we’d like to know how they plan to transpose the rest into national law,” said Rebecca Burgess, CEO of City to Sea. “The EU is not shifting its deadlines and so our government needs to show that it is up to the task of matching them.”

Last week, trade body European Plastics Converters wrote to European Commissioners demanding they delay or even totally rethink the SUP Directive, which bans certain items (including straws) and sets stiff reduction targets for others, including some foodservice packaging. The letter suggests the Commission didn’t consider hygiene when it wrote the laws, with the current crisis is showing how remarkably useful and safe plastic is.

However, the European Commission has given the idea short shrift given there are still 12 months until the Directive has to be transposed into national laws.

In emails sent to Euractiv, Vivian Loonela, the EU Commission spokesperson for environmental matters, also dismissed the health and safety argument being put forward by the plastics industry. “… good hygiene practices should be applied to all products, including substitutes of banned SUPs,” she wrote. “Moreover, the SUP Directive foresees exceptions for medical devices.”

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