The long-delayed ban on single-use plastic items in England is aimed at stemming the rising tide of plastic waste entering environment and oceans
The supply of plastic straws, stirrers, cotton buds and other plastic items in England is now illegal, with the long-delayed ban on a host of single-use plastic items having finally come into effect today, the government has announced.
The ban, which was due to come into force six months ago before being controversially postponed in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, aims to eliminate the estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds used in England every year. If forms part of the government's efforts to stem the tide of plastic pollution, as it targets the elimination of avoidable plastic waste by 2042, as set out in its 25 Year Environment Plan.
"Single-use plastics cause real devastation to the environment and this government is firmly committed to tackling this issue head on," said Environment Secretary George Eustice. "The ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds is just the next step in our battle against plastic pollution and our pledge to protect our ocean and the environment for future generations."
The ban arrives just a month after Ministers confirmed plans to double single-use plastic bag charge to 10p from next Spring, and extend the levy so that it applies to all retailers in England. The government has also announced plans for a £500m Blue Planet Fund to protect the ocean from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing, as well as a deposit return scheme to drive up plastic bottle recyclings. and a tax on plastic packaging that does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30 per cent recycled content.
Globally, it estimated that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year year, polluting seas and harming wildlife.
Ocean campaigners therefore welcomed the today's ban coming into force. Dr Laura Forster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society, emphasised that "only with ambitious policy and forward-thinking brands and companies, can we truly stop the plastic tide".
Some, however, urged the government to go further by acclerating the adoption of additional plastic waste-busting measures.
Tatiana Luján, plastics lawyer at the environmental charity ClientEarth said banning single-use plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers was a "no-brainer - especially because reusable and non-toxic alternatives are readily available", but that such items were small fry compared to other contributors to plastic pollution.
"But these items form only a tiny fraction of single-use plastics, which litter our environment and release toxic substances and greenhouse gas emissions when incinerated - and even when they're made," she said. "Other countries like Ireland and France have shown far more ambition than the UK, with targets on reusable packaging, and deposit return schemes."
Meanwhile, governments and consumers keen to act ahead of government anti-plastic measures can do so with the help of an new app called Refill developed by environmental campaign group City to Sea which helps customers to find locations where they can reuse and refill food and drink as well as cleaning products and toiletries.
The app shows where customers can bring their own containers, while businesses offering reuse or packaging free options can use the app as a free marketing platform to drive footfall and increase sales, according to City to the Sea.
Hight Street retailers such as Costa, Lush and Morrisons are all backing the app, which first launched in 2018 for bottled water and later expanded into food and drink the following year. The app has now expanded further to also include cleaning products and toiletries. It follows research pointing to booming support for such approaches, with three in four consumers reporting willingness to use food refill services.
"The expansion of Refill marks a positive and significant step in tackling the mountains of avoidable single-use waste created everyday," said Rebecca Burgess, CEO at City to Sea. "Refill has already proven that buying habits can change. Last year the bottled water industry reported their first decline in sales (£34.2m loss) after significant growth for the last five years. We're advocating this trend to expand beyond water to other reuse options."
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