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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Government bends to public opinion with ban on plastic goods

Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds are to be banned in England from next year to tackle pollution and protect the environment.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed the ban on the supply of the items from April 2020 after a consultation revealed ‘overwhelming’ public support for the move.

Catholic environmentalists welcomed it as a “really important development” but insisted that the government must go further to cut down single use plastic and improve recycling.

“This is a really important development and will help clean up our environment and boost alternatives to plastic,” Ellen Teague, of the Columban Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, told The Catholic Universe. “It is fantastic that it is driven by increased public awareness and advocacy on plastics pollution.

“But of course, the government and the corporate world must go further to cut down single use plastic and improve recycling,” she added. “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. We need producers to take responsibility for the plastic pollution caused by all their products; whether it’s bags, balloons, packets or otherwise.

“Further, this decision also helps drive plastic-free options and alternatives for the public so they can truly make more sustainable choices in their daily lives. But I must say that when I am offered a bamboo straw I turn it down – most of the time there is no need to use a straw at all!”

Dr Edward Echlin, an eco-theologian and Honorary Fellow at Leeds Trinity University, pointed out that straws, stirrers and buds are a “terrible interference in the life of the global environment”.

“Their use is a malicious attack on our earth,” he told The Catholic Universe.

Exemptions to the ban will allow those who need to use plastic straws for medical reasons or a disability to buy them from registered pharmacies or request them in restaurants, pubs and bars, and the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds for medical and scientific purposes. Food and drink outlets will not be able to display plastic straws or automatically hand them out.

In the Government consultation on this issue, over 80 per cent of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90 per cent a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89 per cent a ban on cotton buds.

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.

Around 10 per cent of cotton buds are flushed down toilets, often ending up in waterways and oceans.

It is estimated there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans and every year, one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or 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 supermarkets drop by 86 per cent.

Picture: Plastic waste pollution on a beach. (Klaus Ohlenschläger/DPA/PA).