The United Kingdom generates nearly 5 million tonnes of plastic waste and uses about 13 billion plastic carrier bags each year. But beginning April next year, all of this is set to change when a stricter plastic ban will be implemented throughout England and the rest of the UK.
This initiative has been in the pipeline for more than year now, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs just recently confirmed the implementation, making England the latest country to take a stand towards eradicating plastic usage. Last year, the European Union passed the same ban that will take effect in 2021.
In a statement by Environment Secretary Michael Gove regarding the government’s decision to implement a plastic ban, he said: “Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment. These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life.”
Currently, 316 million plastic drink stirrers, 4.7 billion plastic straws and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used in England each year. But starting April 2020, the government plans to eradicate the usage of these plastic products by restricting their availability. For one, shops will not be allowed to sell plastic straws except for registered pharmacies where disabled individuals can purchase them as part of their daily routine.
Plastic straws will be replaced with biodegradable options only when needed. According to Environment Ministry Defra, “Anyone can ask for a straw and be given one without needing to prove a disability – we’ve been working with disabled groups so that they don’t feel stigmatised.” This means that establishments are still allowed to offer plastic straws to people with disabilities who need them to drink, but they won’t be allowed to display or automatically hand them.
Plastic drink stirrers, however, will be completely banned while plastic-stemmed cotton buds will still be available but only for medical and scientific laboratories that use them for research and forensic tasks during investigations.
The move to reduce England’s contribution to the plastic crisis comes after a nationwide survey revealed that more than 80% of the respondents agreed on eliminating plastic straws and another 90% were down on completely eradicating the use of plastic drink stirrers.
The government first thought about this course of action after the public’s reaction to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentaries that were released more than two years ago.
Gove said that he was haunted by the image of marine life affected by plastic waste and immediately called for consultations to create measure to reduce the use of single-use plastic items in the country.
England is the latest country in Europe to join the movement against plastic. Scotland already took steps on restricting or banning the same plastic products while the Welsh government has also been working on implementing the same measures.
Environmental groups were impressed by this initiative from the English government and hopes that these actions will go further in the coming years.