Straw on beach. Andy Hughes – Dominant Wave theory. 2006.

The UK government has banned single use items such as plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds on the high street in England from next April 2020.

SAS stats show 4.7 billion plastic straws are used annually, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds. A recent open consultation on the issue found that 80% of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% a ban on cotton buds.

Shops including supermarkets will not be allowed to sell the straws but they will on sale by registered pharmacies in stores and online because they are essential for some disabled groups. Bars and restaurants will not be allowed to display plastic straws or automatically hand them out but they will be able to provide them if people ask.

Plastic stirrers will be totally banned.

Plastic-stemmed cotton buds will be restricted from general sale to the public, but will still be available to medical and scientific laboratories for use in research and for forensic tasks in criminal investigations.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove 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.”

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of SAS, said: “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. 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.”

SAS’s big brand plastic pollution audit, collated with data gathered from thousands of volunteers taking part in the Big Spring Beach Clean found that 32.2% of the unbranded litter was made up of cotton buds – more than any other unbranded item picked up during the cleans – while plastic straws made up another 1.4%.

DEFRA estimates that 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets, therefore easily making their way into our local waterways and oceans.

SAS stated: “…paper alternatives to plastic stemmed cotton buds are widely available and have seen significant levels of adoption. The ban should be introduced without any time delay…as the additional 1.8 billion plastic cotton buds that would be used as a result from delaying another year are entirely avoidable”.