Plastic straws to be banned from April next year...but bars will still have to provide them if asked 

Plastic straws can be deadly for marine animals 
Plastic straws can be deadly for marine animals  Credit: Kirsty O'Connor 

A crackdown on plastic straws will come into force in April but pubs and restaurants will still be required to hand them over if requested by customers under a medical loophole.

Today Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, announced that catering establishments will be banned from handing out straws or drinks stirrers automatically with drinks.

However the ban will include exemptions to ensure disabled people who suffer from conditions, such as muscular dystrophy, can still have access to straws and Defra admitted that anyone will be able to request a straw whether they have a medical issue or not.

People will also be able to buy plastic straws from pharmacies over the counter, or online.

The government said it will carry out a stocktake after a year to assess the impact of the measures and to see whether further restrictions are needed, but campaigners say the ban does not go far enough.

WWF’s Head of Climate Change, Gareth Redmond-King said: “Plastic is suffocating our oceans and overwhelming our wildlife. We must act now – banning all avoidable single use plastic by 2025 - and introducing incentives to help people and businesses make the right choices to reduce, reuse and recycle.”

Plastic breaks down in the sea and is ingested by sea creatures  Credit: BBC Blue Planet II

Each year more than 380 million tons of plastic are produced globally and at least eight million tons ends up in the sea.

It is estimated that there is now a 1:2 ratio of plastic to plankton and, left unchecked, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. Britons use 7.7bn single-use plastic water bottles a year and fewer than half are recycled, meaning that 16 million bottles are binned every day in the UK

Britain has already taken 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation by imposing a 5p tax on bags and recently banned microbeads in cosmetics. The government is also consulting on a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, and under the new ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds will also be outlawed.

It is estimated that 10 per cent of the 1.8 billion produced are flushed down toilets in Britain each year. However an exemption will allow plastic cotton buds for medical and scientific purposes.

Mr Gove 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.”

“So today I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”

Emma Priestland, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said more needed to be done: “Legislation to cut down on pointless plastic is good to see but these three items are just a fraction of the single-use plastic nasties that are used for a tiny amount of time before potentially polluting the natural environment for centuries to come.

“Ultimately we need producers to take responsibility for the plastic pollution caused by all their products; whether it’s bags, balloons, packets, containers or otherwise.”

Maddy Haughton-Boakes, Litter Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), added : “While it is fantastic news that the government has taken such decisive action over plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds, we are deeply disappointed that Michael Gove hasn’t taken this opportunity to ban these unnecessary items all together, whatever the material.”