By Aine Fox, Press Association
Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds could be banned in a year’s time.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has launched a consultation on the Government’s plan to ban the items, which he said can devastate the world’s oceans and wildlife.
The ban could be put in place at some stage between October next year and October 2020, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs said.
The consultation, which applies to England only, will consider exemptions to make sure people who need plastics to deal with medical conditions or accessibility issues are not affected.
Under Government plans, pharmacies would still be able to sell plastic straws and restaurants, pubs and bars could stock the items to be used on request.
It is estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used each year in England.
Mr Gove said the ban would be a boost to efforts to “turn the tide on plastic pollution”.
He said: “Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throw-away plastic items can cause.
“In England we are taking world-leading action with our ban on microbeads, and thanks to the public’s support have taken over 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation with our 5p charge.
“I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers. But we recognise we need to do more.
“Today we step-up our efforts to turn the tide on plastic pollution and ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it.”
Around 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets, often ending up in waterways and oceans, the Government said.
It is hoped millions of pounds could be saved annually on clean-up efforts of used plastics, which can take years to break down.
Greenpeace UK’s political adviser Sam Chetan Welsh commended ministers for doing “the sensible thing”, but urged big companies to do more by cutting down on plastic packaging.
He said: “Our society’s addiction to throwaway plastic is fuelling a global environmental crisis that must be tackled.
“Ministers are doing the sensible thing by looking to ban single-use plastic items that can be easily replaced with better alternatives or that we can simply do without. But this should be just the start.
“If we are to protect our oceans from the scourge of plastic, the flow of waste needs to be cut off at the tap. And that means the companies producing and selling all this packaging must take responsibility for it and cut down the amount of plastic ending up in our shopping baskets.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, welcomed the consultation, saying many restaurants and hotels have already begun taking action to cut down on plastics.
She said: “We wholeheartedly welcome this consultation on an issue of vital importance and one which hospitality has already taken significant action.
“Since UKHospitality’s Unpack the Future of Hospitality summit in the spring, thousands of pubs clubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK have changed their straws and stirrers to biodegradables, or adopted policies that cut or eliminate their use in their venues.
“The Government is seeking views on how we can cut plastic waste and we look forward to continued engagement to play a part in achieving that goal.”