UK plastics ban is just a first step towards turning the tide on plastic pollution crisis

Today (1 October), a UK-wide ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers came into effect and, after being delayed for six months due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is now illegal for businesses to display or sell these single-use plastic items.

EIA has been at the forefront of campaigning for an end to single-use plastics, such as shopping bags and straws, and broadly welcomes the ban as a first step towards tackling plastic pollution.

It is estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used in England every year, all of which are non-recyclable and many of which find their way into our ocean.

The ban follows the approval in May 2019 of the EU’s Single-Use Plastic Directive which, effective from mid-2021, will ban some of the most unnecessary plastic items for which sustainable alternatives already exist. It is these plastic items that include polystyrene containers, balloon sticks and plastic cutlery as well as straws, cotton buds and stirrers which are some of the most common items found littering our beaches.

While these policy measures are certainly a step in the right direction, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Much more needs to be done to turn the tide on plastic pollution, with measures that focus on resource efficiency, moderating needless consumption and reducing waste to build a reusable, refillable society.

This is especially the case in light of predictions that plastic production capacity will quadruple by 2050 and with a waste management infrastructure that is already overwhelmed.

Despite Brexit, the UK Government has committed to “match and where economically practicable exceed the ambition of the EU” on single-use plastics.

EIA Ocean Campaigner Tom Gammage said: “The Government is on the verge of introducing further transformational policies which would represent huge leap forward in tackling this crisis.

“As calls for a green recovery from COVID-19 increase, it is imperative that this ban paves the way for further ambitious policy measures to match or exceed EU ambition. Notably, these should include an all-inclusive deposit return scheme, consistent recycling and reduction/reuse targets as well as mandatory reporting for supermarkets.

“The UK can further deliver on its commitment to ‘lead the world in tackling plastics pollution, both in the UK and internationally’ by supporting the development of a new global treaty to combat the impacts of plastic throughout its life cycle.

“Such a treaty is critical if we are to decisively address the scourge of plastic pollution at the global level.”