England bans plastic straws after pandemic-linked delay

LONDON (AP) — A ban on plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds took effect Thursday in England after a six-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Retailers are barred from selling or supplying the disposable items as part of efforts to cut down on pollution from single-use plastics. There are exemptions for people with disabilities or medical conditions.

The ban was supposed to take effect in April but was put on hold when the country went into a lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The government has estimated that people in England use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds a year.

Environmental activists welcomed the move but said it did not go far enough.

Tatiana Lujan, plastics lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said “these items form only a tiny fraction of single-use plastics, which litter our environment and release toxic substances and greenhouse gas emissions when incinerated — and even when they’re made.”

“Other countries like Ireland and France have shown far more ambition than the U.K., with targets on reusable packaging and deposit return schemes,” she said.

Scotland has already outlawed the plastic items, and Wales and Northern Ireland have promised to ban them.

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