The United Kingdom government has announced plans to ban the sale and distribution of single-use plastic items by October 2020. The types of products effected include straws, stirrers and cotton buds. This builds on the previous successes of the 2018 ban on the sale of products containing plastic microbeads, and the introduction of a charge on plastic bags which was introduced in 2015, shown to have reduced their usage by approximately 15 billion bags.
It is estimate that in England an annual 4.7 billion plastic straws are used, while we also use and throw away 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds. It is estimated that 10% of the used cotton buds are flushed into the sewers and can end up in waterways and oceans.
The volume of plastic material dumped in landfills or escaping into oceans worldwide has increased. Now, with over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans and images of turtles and sea mammals dying from ingested plastic, alongside a million dead birds every year, the world is slowly waking up for the need for change. However, reports still indicate that plastics in the oceans will treble by 2025.
Both the UK and France have planned bans on single-use plastics that come into force in 2020, while the EU as a whole will join them by 2021. Countries are seeking to see change both upon their own shores and those of their neighbours, for the greater good of the planet.
Single-use plastic items are we use for just a few seconds or minutes but then take hundreds of years to break down. Cleaning up the effects of littering alone costs local Government millions of pounds every year.
The UK is committed to reducing its usage of single-use plastic products and non-plastic alternatives are already coming into regular use. International corporations such as Starbuck and McDonalds have already made the switch in the UK to paper straws, alongside UK companies such as Wetherspoons, Selfridges, All Bar One and Pret A Manger.
Wooden stemmed cotton buds can be purchased online and delivered in cardboard only packaging. Paper straws are becoming common place in bars and restaurants and plastic drinks stirrers are vanishing from all but the most stubborn of establishments. Online you can purchase straws made of paper, metal or hardened glass.
When the ban is implemented, plastic stirrers and cotton bud stems will be prohibited outright, however the case for straws is a little more complex. Some plastic straws will still be available via pharmacies as they remain the most appropriate type of straw for certain disabilities. Restaurants, pubs and bars will also still be permitted to keep a supply of plastic straws available only upon request, for the same reasons.
As other countries follow the UK example and make good on promises to reduce their plastic waste, we may start to see evidence that we can turn the plastic laden tide around and return the oceans to a cleaner, more cherished, state.