Plastic Straws, Stirrers, and Plastic-Stemmed Cotton Buds Banned in England

By Mary Clark
Mary Clark
Mary Clark
October 1, 2020Updated: October 1, 2020

The ban on the supply of plastic straws, plastic stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton swabs came into effect in England on Oct. 1, as part of an ongoing campaign to protect the environment, clean up the oceans, and protect marine wildlife, the government said.

It comes just a month after the government further discouraged single-use plastic carrier bags by increasing the charge from 5 to 10 pence (13 cents), and making the charge mandatory for all retailers from April 2021.

The ban was announced in May last year in a move to drive down the consumption of single-use plastic, and ultimately eliminate avoidable plastic waste completely as part of the government’s 25-year environmental plan.

It was scheduled to come into effect in April, but was delayed due to supply chain disruption caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, the Financial Times reported.

cotton swab
Plastic-stemmed cotton swabs are seen in a container in this file photo. (Gadini/

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the UK was a “world-leader” in the fight against single-use plastics, citing the 2018 ban on microbeads, the tiny pieces of plastic often added to toiletry products, and the carrier bag measures, which have “cut sales by 95 percent in the main supermarkets.”

According to research by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, 1.8 billion cotton buds, 202 million plastic stirrers, and 4.7 billion plastic straws are used each year in England.

‘Fantastic News’

Laura Foster, head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said Thursday’s ban was “fantastic news.”

She added that due to companies already making the “switch away from plastic,” England’s annual Great British Beach Clean had shown that plastic-stemmed cotton bud litter has fallen from 31 buds found per 100 meters (109 yards) of beach in 2017 to eight in 2019.

The government described the ban on plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds as a “major step” in the fight against plastic waste.

paper straws
Paper straws sit on the bar at Fog Harbor Fish House in San Francisco, California, on June 21, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Michael Shellenberger, a life-long champion of the natural world, however, said plastic straws were only a very small part of the plastic waste problem.

In his book “Apocalypse Never” published earlier this year, he said that “when you consider that just 0.03 percent of the 9 million tons of plastic that ends up in oceans every year is composed of straws, banning them seems like a profoundly small thing, indeed.”

The government said that despite the ban on plastic straws, disabled people and those with medical conditions can still request one when visiting a pub or restaurant and that they will be able to buy them from pharmacies.

Several major fast-food and restaurant chains had already significantly reduced or stopped using plastic straws before the ban came into effect.

Drinks Containers

Other environmental measures the government is working on include developing a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers for the whole of the UK.

The government hopes the scheme, planned for 2023 following a second consultation, will help tackle the issue of the drinks containers commonly found littering UK beaches and which are used in their billions every year in the UK.

plastic bottles and cans are in the water
Plastic drinks bottles and other plastic waste are seen floating in the sea in this undated photo. (MonicaVolpin/

It also plans to levy a tax on any plastic waste that is less than 30 percent recyclable from April 2022.

As part of a global effort, the government plans to ban the export of “polluting plastic waste” to poorer, non-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and last year it created its “30by30” initiative pushing for at least 30 percent of the global ocean to be protected by 2030.

The government also said it is collaborating on the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance and the Commonwealth Litter Programme to prevent plastic waste entering the sea.

Lily Zhou contributed to this report