Following last month’s EU announcements of a sweeping restrictions and bans on a wide range of single use plastics across EU member states by 2021, Defra announced yesterday its own initial plan to restrict the sale of plastic straws, plastic cotton bud sticks and ban plastic stirrers from April 2020 (consulted upon last October). This is being heralded as the first such ban in Europe but it shouldn’t be confused with a full implementation of the much wider EU plans for 2021. Scotland and Wales are considering their own approach to single use plastics; these are likely to be as stringent if not more so than yesterday’s plans announced for England.
Depending on the final outcome, structure and time-frame of Brexit the UK may be compelled to implement the EU regulation in 2021, or the UK Government may adopt similar measures voluntarily because they choose to, or to comply with the agreed or voluntary terms of any withdrawal agreements reached.
What isn’t necessarily being made clear to the public in the media coverage of this issue is that what is being banned or restricted is the material of manufacture, not the items themselves. Straws and stirrers are not being restricted or banned just those made, largely for convenience or cost reasons of plastic. By 2020 in the UK’s case and 2021 across the rest of the EU manufacturers, supplier, retailers and customers will have ample time to source and adjust habits to alternatives, in the main paper or wood based.
These measures will not necessarily reduce issues for beach managers around waste management or littering but change them by simply make the items involved more biodegradable and in the case of beach and strandline litter, less noticeable, less visually offensive and less environmentally damaging.