Plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds could be banned within a year under government plans to cut pollution, Michael Gove is to announce.
Launching a consultation on the proposals on Monday, the environment secretary will cite the success of the 5p charge on single-use plastic bags, which led to an 86% drop in their use at major supermarkets.
It is estimated that 4.7bn plastic straws, 316m plastic stirrers and 1.8bn plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used in England each year. About 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets and can end up in waterways and oceans, costing local authorities millions to clean up.
The government is seeking to ban the distribution and sale of these items to try to force businesses to offer readily available non-plastic alternatives.
The ban would come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020, subject to the views collected during consultation. Mindful that the use of plastic straws can be necessary for medical reasons, exemptions will be included in any legislation.
The EU announced earlier this year that it would introduce similar measures, prompting calls for the UK to follow Brussels’ lead since the change was unlikely to come early enough to be part of the tranche of EU laws due to be transposed into British law after Brexit.
“Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throwaway plastic items can cause,” Gove will say. “I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers, but we recognise we 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.”
Greenpeace UK’s political adviser, Sam Chetan-Welsh, said: “Our society’s addiction to throwaway plastic is fuelling a global environmental crisis that must be tackled.”
It is estimated there are more than 150m tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, with that figure set to treble by 2025. One million birds and at least 100,000 sea mammals die annually from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.
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