Video Report by Science Editor Tom Clarke
Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds will be banned in England from next year to tackle pollution and protect the environment.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed a ban on the supply of the items from April 2020 after a consultation revealed “overwhelming” public support for the move.
More than 80% of respondents back a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, according to the consultation, while 90% support a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% on cotton buds.
It is estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used each year in England.
"It's vital that we take action to reduce the scourge of single use plastics and today we're putting forward the most comprehensive ban possible on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds," Mr Gove said.
"As a result we will make sure that these items, which are often lethal for marine wildlife, are effectively banned.
"Of course there will be some exceptions, and those are for strict medical reasons only.
"And this ban will ensure that we continue to lead the way in making sure that we reduce plastic in our seas and that we deal with this particular scourge, this pollution that causes so much damage."
Those who need to use plastic straws for medical reasons or a disability will still be able to buy them from registered pharmacies or request them in restaurants, pubs and bars.
Exemptions will also allow for the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds for medical and scientific purposes.
But food and drink outlets will not be able to display plastic straws or automatically hand them out.
Around 10% of cotton buds are flushed down toilets, often ending up in waterways and oceans, according to the Government.
It is hoped millions of pounds could be saved annually on clean-up efforts of used plastics.
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.”
There are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, it is estimated, and every year one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.
The announcement follows the Government’s ban on microbeads and the 5p charge on single-use plastic bags, which has seen distribution by major supermarkets drop by 86%.
Surfers Against Sewage chief executive Hugo Tagholm welcomed the ban.
He said: “Stopping the production and distribution of these single-use plastic menaces will prevent them from polluting beaches nationwide.
"It’s a really positive and bold step in the right direction in the battle against plastic pollution.
“It is also helps further drive plastic-free options and alternatives for the public so they can truly make more sustainable choices in their daily lives.”
Lauren West, from Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Plastic straws are sometimes the only type of straw that work for disabled people due to their flexibility and ability to be used in hot and cold drinks.
“We’re pleased the Government has recognised this in its proposals put forward today.”
Greenpeace political campaigner Sam Chetan-Welsh said these bans still only "scratch the surface".
He said: “It’s been a long time coming, but we welcome the news that the Government is finally enforcing a ban on throwaway plastics like straws, cotton buds and stirrers.
"The reality is though, that these bans only scratch the surface.
“To really tackle the plastic crisis we need bigger bolder action from this Government, including targets to radically reduce the production of single-use plastics and an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for drinks containers.”
Laura Foster, from the Marine Conservation Society, said: “While we strongly welcome today’s announcement, we now need Michael Gove to go further in moving to reduce plastic consumption overall and increase recycling rates, particularly with a fully inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles and glass.
“It’s clear that the public mood has changed and what we need to see now is further action by retailers and the government to encourage a move against all single use plastic and to improve recycling.”