The UK Government has set out its plan to ban the distribution and sale of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds. The plan is subject to a consultation launched by Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

In England, it is estimated that  4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used annually. An estimated 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets and can end up in waterways and oceans.

In order to eliminate these items from use, the Government intends to introduce a ban on their distribution and sale. The ban would come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020, subject to the views collected during consultation.

The Government says that it recognises there are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons and the consultation seeks views on how to ensure those who need straws for medical and accessibility reasons can still use them. For example, pharmacies will still be able to sell plastic straws and restaurants, pubs and bars will be able to stock some straws for use on request. 

Foodservice Packaging Association Executive Director Martin Kersh comments on today's announcement: 

“Today’s announcement coincides with the EU debate today and tomorrow over the amends to the Single Use Plastic Directive and reinforces that the UK will be following that direction in banning plastic straws, stirrers, cotton buds and balloon sticks.  We hope that plastics straws are still made available for consumers with disabilities and special requirements to purchase in approved outlets and in pubs, hotels and bars, so those consumers can still enjoy going out with friends and family, as there clear scenarios where plastic straws are the best option. For example, we feel plastic straws, in conjunction with beverage cartons, remain the safest way of providing school milk and wonder if any other format will work in this context. We would like to see Government devote its attentions to the bigger picture in enabling more recycling to take place in the UK. This can only be achieved by reforming our PRN system and should be the priority given the EU Directive timeline which is about to be passed will include a plastic straws ban anyway.  We therefore reemphasise our call for PRN reform and urge the Government to speed this up.”