In line with the global shift towards eradicating plastic straws, the European Union has stepped in and voiced its intention to ban a number of single-use plastic products by 2030. They aim to have plastic straws and similar disposable plastic products outlawed in all 27 member states.
Research has predicted that there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (by weight) by 2050, and straws are one of the main culprits. The majority of straws are not recycled as they are usually contaminated with food and drink residue.
The United Kingdom begins the ban on straws
The Marine Conservation Society estimates that 8.5 billion plastic straws are discarded every year in the United Kingdom (UK). Plastic straws are among the top 10 waste items found on beaches around the world.
Glasgow has already banned the use of plastic straws in its municipal buildings, and many UK restaurant franchises have stopped supplying them – opting for biodegradable alternatives instead.
“I want to do everything we can to restrict the use of plastic straws and we’re exploring at the moment if we can ban them,” says the UK’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove.
Plastic manufacturers call for alternative solutions
This movement that seeks the end of plastic straws has left the manufacturers quickly searching for a solution to the problem. Many are experimenting with paper and plant-based materials that will break down once discarded.
However, these alternative straws are costly to produce and expensive to purchase in bulk. Many venues and stores still prefer the cheaper plastic options to save money. Biodegradable straws are about five times more expensive than regular plastic ones.
This added financial issue could have severe impacts on the plastics industry and consumers if the ban is passed by the European Union.
Who is to blame for the plastic pollution?
The manufacturers argue that the problem doesn’t lie with the straws themselves, but rather with the waste management services. “[Plastic] is a good material and very useful – the problem is the waste collection and the lack of recycling,” argues Plastico CEO Caroline Wiggins.
Suggested alternatives to an outright ban include providing dedicated recycling bins and further public education on how to correctly recycle food and beverage items.
Other cities and countries around the world are joining the calls for a ban on straws. Seattle will begin their ban on straws in July 2018, while Taiwan has announced a full ban on plastic bags, straws and utensils by 2030.
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