The UK government has today announced a ban on plastic drinking straws, stirrers and cotton buds following a consultation last year which showed strong support. Originally planned to be introduced in April, it was postponed because of coronavirus.

Chris Sherrington, Head of Environmental Policy & Economics at Eunomia has carried out several high profile studies which investigate the environmental damage caused by plastic products like straws, stirrers and cotton buds. He has also worked for governments and the European Commission to develop policies designed to reduce marine plastics and litter. Reacting to the government’s new ban, he said:

Over-consumption of all single-use items

“It’s good to see the government hasn’t forgotten this problem while it also deals with a global pandemic. There is however a missed opportunity here – because it’s not just single-use plastics that cause problems, and a likely effect of the ban in many cases will simply be a switch to single-use items made of other materials. As a society, we have developed a wasteful habit of over-consumption and should be looking to move away from single-use items as far as possible be they made of plastic, paper, wood or any other material.

Go further

Supplementing the ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, with a requirement to charge for non-plastic single-use alternatives would send a strong message that reusable alternatives should be favoured by foodservice businesses, in line with the legal requirements of the waste hierarchy. If businesses communicate that reusables are the preferred choice – consumers – many of whom are already concerned about environmental damage, will adapt their behaviour accordingly.

What is plastic?

“There’s a further issue in that the regulations use the same definition of plastic that is currently the subject of much debate at the European level, which could mean that viscose, falls out of scope. Given that drinking straws can be made of viscose,  I imagine the government might soon have to provide clarification as to what it intends to be included under the ban.

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