The Government’s response to a consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on banning plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, published today (22 May), has revealed that more than 80% of participants backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws with 90% in favour of axing drinks stirrers.
Despite the effect of plastic pollution worrying 89% of respondents, it is estimated 95% of straws are still plastic despite alternatives being readily available.
It is also believed there is more than 150m tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, with more than 1m birds and in excess of 100,000 sea mammals dying per year as a result of plastic pollution.
Discussing the ban, Environment Secretary Michael Gove explained: “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.”
The Government will carry out a stocktake after the first year of the ban to assess the impact of its measures.
However, while Gove has confirmed a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to tackle plastic pollution, his department has confirmed that measures will include an exemption to ensure that anyone with medical needs or disabilities will still have access to plastic straws – with registered pharmacies able to sell them over the counter or online.
In line with this, while pubs and bars will not be able to display plastic straws or automatically hand them out, they will be able to provide them on request to cater for people with medical conditions and disabilities.
“Plastic straws are sometimes the only type of straw that work for disabled people due to their flexibility and ability to be used in hot and cold drinks,” Lauren West, Trailblazers manager at Muscular Dystrophy UK, explained. “While we appreciate the need to reduce the use of plastics, traditional single-use straws are essential for some disabled people.
“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.
“We’re pleased the Government has recognised this in its proposals put forward today. 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.”
Exemption for pubs
The pub and hospitality sectors have been at the forefront of the campaign to tackle plastic straws, for example through the Last Straw campaign, which was collectively launched by UKHospitality (UKH), the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), the British Institute of Innkeeping and The Morning Advertiser in January 2018.
Responding to DEFRA's announcement on single-use plastics, Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKH commented: “We fully support the Government’s objective to drastically reduce unnecessary single-use plastics.
“We are pleased that the Government has recognised the genuine need of some of our customers, with today’s announcement exempting hospitality venues, by allowing straws for customers upon request, which is a practice that the sector was rapidly implementing or moving towards.
“The hospitality sector has voluntarily made significant progress in reducing the availability and use of plastic straws and stirrers, motivated both by a moral duty and our customers’ environmental concerns.”
BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds added: “It’s important we all do our bit to reduce plastic waste and that is why we welcome the Government’s ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.
“It is important that the ban recognises the needs of customers with a disability who require plastic straws, so pubs will still be able to provide them on request. We will work with the Government to ensure that the right guidance is put in place for this.
“The ban will build on the great work already done by pubs to reduce their waste plastic.
“Publicans looking for advice on alternatives to plastic straws specifically, can also read our guidance.”