UK Reveals Plans to Ban Plastic Straws, Stirrers and Cotton Swabs

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CC BY 2.0. Horia Varlan

The long-awaited legislation could be enacted within the year.

We'd seen hints before that the UK was about to ban straws, leading to a flare up of "straw wars" between Britain and the European Union (as if we needed any more tension on that particular front). Now the governing Conservative Party has launched a consultation on proposals to ban straws, drink stirrers and cotton swabs. As predicted previously, the move could happen extremely fast with an effective date of somewhere between October 2019 and October 2020. (There will be some exceptions for things like medical necessity.)

Of course, it goes without saying that banning plastic straws is hardly going to fix the problem of marine plastic pollution overnight. And beyond that, there's a case to be made that we need to tackle the disposability culture associated with fast food altogether. (Reusable take-out schemes, anyone?)

That said, as Business Green notes in its report on the government's proposals, even the limited switch from plastic to paper straws (bioplastics will also be excluded until they are marine degradable), stirrers and cotton swabs would both cut non-biodegradable litter and result in significant carbon emissions savings—as long as the material supply for alternatives is well managed and sourced sustainably.

Yes, the ultimate challenge is tackling our throwaway culture. But I welcome this as an interim measure which looks like it will be enacted swiftly. I hope there's much, much more of this to come.