In May 2019, the UK Government formally confirmed the phase-out date for plastic straws and drink stirrers, and cotton buds with plastic stems, banning the items from being sold in England from April 2020.
The move, which has been in the offing for more than two years, is aimed to cutback the estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 300 million stirrers, and two billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used in England every year.
However, Defra has moved the ban date back to October 2020 in response to challenges imposed by the coronavirus outbreak.
“Given the huge challenges posed to businesses by coronavirus, we have confirmed we will delay the introduction of our ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until October 2020,” Defra said in a statement.
“We remain absolutely committed to turning the tide on the widespread use of single-use plastics and the threat they pose to our natural environment. This ban is yet another measure to clamp down on unnecessary plastic so we can better protect our precious wildlife and leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”
A Plastic Planet’s co-founder Sian Sutherland stated on Twitter that the ban didn’t need to be delayed.
“I can see no real need for us to continue to pollute our planet any longer than necessary. We are not talking PPE here but plastic cotton buds and stirrers that the UK public agreed should be banned. I’m sure anyone involved in healthcare would want to protect our planet too.”
EAC Chairman Philip Dunne MP said: “It is very disappointing that the Government has delayed the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. These items when made from plastic are virtually impossible to recycle, so they end up in landfill or are dumped, jeopardising the environment and wildlife both on land and when they reach the sea.
“The UK is a world-leader in environmental protection. While it is completely understood that the response to coronavirus should dominate Government resources currently, it is crucial that the pandemic does not threaten progress being made with relatively straightforward steps to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”
Elsewhere, paper straw manufacturer Transcend Packaging (which supplies to companies such as McDonald’s) also noted the ban shouldn’t be delayed.
“We believe strongly that the UK single-use plastic ban should move forward with minimal delay,” Lorenzo Angelucci, chief executive at Transcend Packaging said. “There are nearly five billion plastic straws used annually in England and there are British companies, including Transcend, ready and able to supply a sustainable alternative that is both recyclable and degrades naturally if it falls out of the waste stream.
“We commend DEFRA for the important work they have done in working to combat single-use plastics and encourage them to finish the job as soon as possible.”
City to Sea’s chief executive Rebecca Burgess said: “We’re now looking to government to provide reassurance that this isn’t the start of slippery slope of watering down and delaying legislation to tackle the plastics crisis. We’re particularly concerned as this follows on from government announcing the temporary removal of charges for plastic bags used in online grocery deliveries.
“Whilst we’re all having to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape, any delays or changes to the commitment will come with a large environmental cost. We need reassurance that they understand the price they’re asking our natural environment to pay. This delayed ban was the government’s first-step in implementing the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive, and we’d like to know how they plan to transpose the rest into national law. The EU is not shifting its deadlines and so our government needs to show that it is up to the task of matching them.”
The Welsh Government is set to bring restrictions around certain single-use plastic items, including straws and cotton buds, into effect in the first half of 2021.
The UK’s delay comes as the European Commission (EC) refused to readjust and relax bans on single-use items across the bloc, following pressure for industry groups.
The EC’s single-use plastic directive was adopted in June last year and introduced bans on a selected number of throw-away items such as cutlery, beverage cups, balloon sticks, straws and cotton bud sticks. However, some industry groups had called for the ban to be lifted on some single-use plastic items because of health and hygiene concerns raised during the COVID-19 outbreak.