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Editorial Staff

1,800 million cotton buds, 5,000 million plastic straws. This is in the UK. Every day. Until today. And it's not the only initiative coming into effect

As from today, it is illegal for any business in the UK to supply, "to an end user", plastic straws, cotton buds or plastic stirrers.

The ban was supposed to start in April but as measures to control the pandemic came into play and the food and beverage industry came under increasing pressure - and in some cases closed - implementation was delayed for six months to allow the run-out of stock and restocking with acceptable alternatives.

But the ban is not total: the The Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020 (see here: https://assets.publishing.serv...) provides exceptions, in certain circumstances, for

Straws: registered pharmacies, catering establishments, relevant devices and medical purposes, packaging and other establishments.
Plastic-stemmed cotton buds: relevant devices and medical purposes, forensic and scientific purposes
Plastic drink stirrers - no exemptions.

Bizarrely, it is not an offence to supply the product in bulk - so the products can be sold to an outlet which is not then allowed to pass them to their customers.

It is not an offence to supply "an attached plastic straw" - so if a straw is wrapped in plastic then glued to the side of a drink's box, that's OK. So all those school lunchboxes continue to cause two pieces of plastic waste - in addition to the box itself.

Where pharmacies supply goods for delivery, plastic straws can be enclosed. But they most not be displayed in the shop nor advertised to any customer.

And then there's the most silly exception of all: in catering establishments the plan is for "out of sight, out of mind." Yes, they can be issued but they must be kept out of sight and only handed over if the customer requests them. So all those millions of burger bar meals and tall drinks with ice floating in them .. so long as the customer asks, it's OK.

Also, it's OK to continue with the free use of plastic straws in

(a) a care home;
(b) premises used for early years provision;
(c) a school; or
(d) a prison or other place of detention.

That hospitals are left out seems silly: that's where many people have difficulty drinking from a cup if they are in bed.

So, basically, nothing much changes, it seems.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, one supermarket group has started a group wide roll-out of a policy of no single use plastic carriers. As from today, its B.I.G. division will not longer supply them. The Group, The Food Purveyor, also owns Village Grocer on one of the largest and the most rapidly expanding supermarket chains is making reductions in the plastics used at all points in its shops. It is noticeable that, while some other chains wrap fruit and vegetables in one or even two layers of clingfilm for display, much of Village Grocer's display is plastic free.