England is banning plastic straws from April 2020
When it comes to looking after the world we live in and maintaining the environment for future generations, it can often seem like we're a little powerless. But there are small changes that can be made that can have a much larger impact than you would expect - especially when it comes to the usage of plastic.
Many individual institutions have chosen to forgo using plastic straws in recent years, but now the UK government has announced a ban on all sales of plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds. This comes after a public consultation which saw 80 per cent of people back a ban on the sale and distribution of plastic straws, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Michael Gove, the Secretary of this department, said in a statement that these changes will come into force from next year onwards. In his statement, he said:
"Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment. These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life.
"So today I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations."
It is estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws are used every year in England alone, with 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds adding to waste that often ends up polluting the ocean. Surfers Against Sewage, which works to reduce plastic waste in oceans, championed the decision.
"Surfers Against Sewage welcome the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. Stopping the production and distribution of these single-use plastic menaces will prevent them from polluting beaches nationwide," CEO Hugo Tagholm said. "It's a really positive and bold step in the right direction in the battle against plastic pollution."
"It is also helps further drive plastic-free options and alternatives for the public so they can truly make more sustainable choices in their daily lives," he added.
There were some criticisms made from the disabled community, who feared that these new measures would affect those for whom plastic straws are vital. "If disabled people cannot access plastic straws when out it could put their health at risk as they may not be able to drink and could become dehydrated," Lauren West, Trailblazers manager at Muscular Dystrophy UK, said.
Thankfully, this issue was considered as part of the proposals, with the government assuring this community that there will be exemptions to make sure those who need them are still able to access plastic straws.
"We're pleased the Government has recognised this in its proposals put forward today," West continued. "We would encourage Defra to continue consulting disabled people and groups like Trailblazers to ensure we are not disadvantaged or targeted and stigmatised for using single-use plastics."
According to the BBC, stores won't be able to sell plastic straws, but they will be available in registered pharmacies for the disabled. Bars and restaurants will not be able to display or hand out plastic straws automatically, but can provide them if personally requested.