Banning Plastic Straws & Cotton Buds in 2020
Early this year, Environmental Secretary Michael Gove announced that in 2020, plastic straws, drinks stirrers and plastic cotton buds will be banned. This came following a high level of public support, and it will be enforced from April of next year.
Why Is This Good?
In England alone, experts estimate that nearly 5 billion plastic straws are used by the public each year. Mostly, this is from fast-food restaurants, although there are also present in bars, cafes, and supermarkets, where you can purchase these straws in bulk for parties. The numbers for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland only compound this epidemic into something much worse.
Likewise, drink stirrers, while not as common also contribute to over 316 million items of plastic waste. There are almost 2 million plastic-stemmed cotton buds used in UK households every year, with around 10% of these buds flushed down the toilet instead of being disposed of correctly. Instead, they end up in oceans, rivers, lakes, waterpipes and waterways.
The idea behind the ban is to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up contaminating the environment, which puts wildlife at risk both at home and overseas. This plastic ends up inside animals who mistake it for food or get it trapped when foraging through the undergrowth.
When plastic ends up in the ocean, it begins to deteriorate slowly, releasing microplastics that are ingested by fish and other marine life, which then makes its way back into our systems when we eat these animals.
It is estimated that there over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans. The UK is by no means the main culprit, but this ban can help lead the way for other countries to follow suit and hopefully reduce the one million birds and 100,000-plus sea mammals which die every year following consumption of or getting caught in plastic waste.
What Are the Alternatives?
Already, restaurants and other hospitality-based businesses are rolling out alternatives, at least to the plastic straw epidemic. You might remember the outcry in August 2019 from dissatisfied McDonald’s customers against the introduction of paper straws, with a petition reaching 56,687 signatures created following the switch.
While these straws cannot technically be recycled due to food and drink contamination, they are still paper and therefore more biodegradable and better for the environment compared to plastic straws.
However, while there will be a ban on plastic-stemmed earbuds for sale in supermarkets, the government will allow hospitals, science laboratories and other medical centres to use them if there is no other option. Still, even with such an allowance, the rate of plastic disposed on incorrectly will reduce dramatically.
Much like the plastic bag charge and ban on microbeads in cosmetic products, it demonstrates a commitment towards battling the climate crisis before it is too late. However, there is still a long way to go.
A Sign of Things to Come?
With both the government and independent organisations starting to take steps towards banning single-use plastics, it could be a sign of things to come when it comes to combating the effects of non-biodegradable products. It may take some time to eliminate these plastics entirely, and in some cases, it might be impossible. But fewer plastics polluting our environment, oceans, and everyday lives can only be a good thing.