The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed that it will ban the sale of plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and plastic stemmed-cotton buds in England by 2020.
Environment secretary Michael Gove confirmed the move today, following a public consultation of the matter in which more than 80% of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws. It is part of a series of moves, underpinned by the waste and resources strategy published last year, to reduce plastic waste and damage to the environment.
“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.”
Of the 1,602 responses to Defra’s consultation, around 90% supported a ban on drinks stirrers and 89% a ban on cotton buds, in an effort to curb plastic waste.
A consultation document published by Defra today said the government “commends and fully supports” retailers that no longer supply plastic straws to customers, but said the ban was intended to “go further”.
“We believe that only legislation can fully address this problem and leave the environment in a better state,” it said.
Exemptions will be in place for people who require plastic straws for medical purposes, and registered pharmacies will be permitted to sell them.
Restaurants and bars will not be allowed to display plastic straws or automatically give them to customers, but will be allowed to provide them on request.
This is in response to concerns that a ban could adversely affect people with some physical disabilities or medical conditions that make it difficult for them to drink without using a straw. However, it is unlikely to satisfy some disability rights campaigners who have said a ban, even with exemptions, may make it more difficult for people who need straws to access them.
In its announcement today, Defra said the policy “strikes the right balance between reducing environmental impact while protecting the rights of people with medical conditions and disabilities”.
“The government will continue working with all stakeholders including disability groups to ensure that those with accessibility needs are not disproportionately disadvantaged, and that they are included in conversations around research and design for alternatives to plastic straws,” it said in its response to the public consultation, also published today.
There will also be an exemption for plastic-stemmed cotton buds used for medical and scientific purposes, “where these are often the only practical option”, Defra said.