2019 Reflection: The Last (Plastic) Straw

Single Use Plastic

2019 Reflection: The Last (Plastic) Straw

It was earlier this year when the government confirmed the ban on single-use plastics from 2020, including plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds.

The government had been considering action on single-use plastic items since the huge public reaction to David Attenborough’s landmark Blue Planet II documentaries. The new controls were announced in Spring after 80% of people voted in support of the ban in a public consultation. The efforts hope to limit ocean pollution which the series had highlighted and is set to be enforceable from in April 2020.

Most single-use plastics we talk about are made from polypropylene and polystyrene, both of which take hundreds of years to break down or decompose. It shouldn’t be acceptable that items we use for just a few minutes will take hundreds of years to break down, and in some cases ends up in our oceans causing harm marine life. Over 150 million tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans and every year millions of birds and 100,000 sea mammals die from ingesting them or getting tangles in plastic waste.

Many restaurants and food outlets were quick to introduce replacements for the soon-to-be banned plastic straws, with a number of our fast food giants opting for paper alternatives. It’s estimated we use an incredible 8.5 billion plastic straws every year in the UK so it’s natural that some of us didn’t necessarily welcome the change.

Initial reactions? Consumers weren’t so keen on the change with fast food fans labelling the new paper straws as “mushy” and “pointless” when they launched. Savvy eBayers were even selling McDonalds’ ex-plastic straws online for a decent profit because of it.

The ban however doesn’t apply to people with medical needs or disabilities as paper and glass alternatives are not always adequate or safe enough. In these cases, registered pharmacies will be able to sell them over the counter and online.

Plastic-stemmed cotton buds will also still be available for use in labs and for forensic scientists. However, the cuts on a consumer level will the reduce the estimated 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds used every year, many of which are flushed down the toilet and sometimes end up in our oceans.

Plastic stirrers, on the other hand, will be totally banned from sale (it’s estimated that we use 316 million stirrers a year!)

Eco-retailers have been introducing more sustainable alternatives such as glass, metal or bamboo straws/cutlery etc. Encouraging consumers to switch to reusable choices rather than any single-use items. You can read more in our ‘Ditching the Disposables’ blog we published earlier in the year.

Above is figure 1: Photo by Karina Tess on Unsplash



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