A ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England has been pushed back six months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The throwaway items were due to be banned from April to help fight pollution and protect the environment, after a consultation revealed ‘overwhelming’ public support for the move.
The ban has exemptions allowing 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.
The public consultation showed more than 80% of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% a ban on cotton buds.
But the Environment Department (Defra) has now delayed the introduction of the ban due to the Covid-19 outbreak – which could have already seen its peak in Britain, according to England’s chief medical officer.
A ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England has been delayed by six months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (file image)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during the daily coronavirus disease digital news conference in 10 Downing Street, April 15
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, with around 10% of cotton buds flushed down toilets, often ending up in waterways or oceans, the Government said.
It is hoped millions of pounds could be saved annually on clean-up efforts of used plastics.
A Defra spokesman said: ‘Given the huge challenges posed to businesses by coronavirus, we have confirmed we will delay the introduction of our ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until October 2020.
‘We remain absolutely committed to turning the tide on the widespread use of single-use plastics and the threat they pose to our natural environment.
‘This ban is yet another measure to clamp down on unnecessary plastic so we can better protect our precious wildlife and leave our environment in a better state for future generations.’
The throwaway items were due to be banned from April to tackle pollution and protect the environment, after a consultation revealed ‘overwhelming’ public support for the move
The delay was criticised by campaigners against plastic pollution.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet said: ‘If the demand for this delay actually came from the NHS and frontline workers rather than the plastics industry; of course every plastic activist would be in agreement.
‘But no, the plastic lobbyists have been working overtime and have succeeded here.
‘Let’s hope this isn’t the beginning of a slippery slope when the UK public have made it very clear that they want industry to protect nature, not continue to pollute and destroy it.’
The revelation comes as England’s chief medical officer today claimed Britain’s coronavirus crisis may have already peaked, as the daily death toll stayed below 800 for the fourth day in a row.
Officials announced just 761 more COVID-19 victims in hospitals across the home nations, including a 20-year-old with no known underlying condition, taking the overall number of fatalities close to the 13,000-mark.
It is slightly down from the 778 fatalities recorded yesterday – but much lower than the 980 declared on April 10, considered Britain’s darkest day yet since the virus began spreading on British soil in February.
NHS hospitals have said they were coping well with the influx of patients and have enough capacity in intensive care for anyone who needs it.
Government figures have already shown the number of hospital admissions is ‘plateauing’, and senior officials say Britain is finally starting to see the benefits of the lockdown imposed on March 23.
England’s CMO Professor Chris Whitty sparked hope for millions of Britons that there was light at the end of the tunnel, saying: ‘We do all think this has flattened out.’ But he added: ‘We can’t be sure we’re past the peak.’
In Downing Street’s press conference, Professor Whitty said deaths will spike for a ‘short while’ and he expects the daily fatality count to go up tomorrow after a four-day Easter weekend.
Modelling by world-leading data analysts suggests the UK’s death toll has also peaked and the curve is flattening, with scientists predicting Britain’s deadliest day to be on April 13. But Washington University academics have yet to adjust their projection to account for today’s low numbers.
Fears were yesterday raised that the true size of Britain’s coronavirus death toll could be 50 per cent higher than official figures because of a backlog in recording and the failure to include fatalities in care homes and hospices.
Separate figures released by Scotland today showed that 25 per cent of all deaths could be in care homes, which could mean the true size of the fatality count is around 15,000 if the same maths was applied to the rest of the UK.
The Health Secretary tonight paid tribute to World War II hero Captain Tom Moore, calling him ‘an inspiration to us all’ after he managed to raise more than £8million for the NHS by marching around his garden on a zimmer frame.
And Matt Hancock gave a further hint that lockdown measures would be extended tomorrow, saying: ‘We cannot let go of the hard work that’s been done so far… we will not lift these measures until it is safe to do so.’