A ban on plastic straws, drink stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton swabs took effect last week in England. With few exceptions, retailers cannot sell or supply the disposable items in their shops or restaurants. The edict comes after a six-month delay caused by handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Banning plastics has long been debated as part of efforts to cut down on pollution from single-use plastics. (See “UK Mulls Banning Plastic Straws.”) The UK ban was supposed to take effect in April, but the law was put on hold when the country went into a lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The government has estimated that people in England use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton swabs every year.
Environmental activists welcomed the move but said it did not go far enough.
Tatiana Lujan, plastics lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, says, “These items form only a tiny fraction of single-use plastics, which litter our environment and release toxic substances and greenhouse gas emissions when incinerated—and even when they’re made.”
She also believes that “other countries like Ireland and France have shown far more ambition than the UK” when it comes to banning plastic waste. Indeed, Scotland has already outlawed the plastic goods, and Wales and Northern Ireland have promised to ban them.
There are some exceptions to the ban. Some people need to use plastics for physical or medical reasons. The ban allows hospitals and restaurants to provide plastic straws to people with certain disabilities or medical conditions. (For more information on why plastic straws may be necessary for some disabled persons, see “Jumping on the Plastic Ban Wagon.”)
Several UK restaurants stopped using plastics on their own before the ban went into effect. These include Costa Coffee, McDonald’s (UK), and Nando’s (a Portuguese-African restaurant).
UK environmental charity worker Tatiana Lujan calls cotton swabs, stirrers, and straws “some of the most pointless plastics out there,” adding that the ban was “a no-brainer.”
What are your thoughts about banning plastic items for some people?
(Plastic drinking straws. A ban on plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton swab stems came into force in England on Thursday October 1, 2020, after a six-month delay. AP Photo/Barbara Woike)