New bans on cotton buds announced

Today, the UK government confirmed its proposed ban on plastic stemmed cotton buds, drink stirrers and straws and has published a response report following its public consultation to ban the sale and distribution of these three single use plastic items in England.

We were really encouraged to see the vast majority of respondents, both individuals and organisations, support the proposed ban; in the case of Plastic stem cotton buds, 89% of respondents were in favour. We believe this is a positive step in the right direction to tackling the way we use and value plastic, including reducing the need for single use plastic.

Fidra’s The Cotton Bud Project has been working to tackle this form of pollution since 2013 and is delighted that proposed legislation in both Scotland and England could be coming into force by 2020. You can read more about the project and its timeline here.

This follows yesterdays news that the Council of the European Union adopted legislation to regulate the use of single use plastics across the EU. This will see the EU Single Use Plastic Directive take effect later this year, requiring all member states to ban single use plastic items including cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, cotton buds, balloon sticks and expanded polystyrene food containers and cups by 2021[1].

Fidra believes a ban on plastic stemmed cotton buds is the right course of action for the following reasons:

Plastic cotton buds impact our marine environment 

  • There are, on average, 21.2 cotton buds for every 100 meters of UK beach[2]
  • Plastic cotton buds are not only aesthetically undesirable, being found on some of the UK’s most beautiful and iconic beaches, they also pose a significant threat to marine life. Find out herewhy they are risky eating for wildlife and what toxic concentrations they accumulate.  
  • Campaigns to promote behaviour change have had time limited success and failed to stop the incorrect disposal of these items down toilets in the long term.
  • While cotton buds should never be flushed, effectiveness of public awareness campaigns (such as Don’t Flush It messages) have been limited in their success.  Improving appropriate disposal of cotton buds is imperative, but changing the material used to produce them, makes them far less likely to escape through wastewater systems and has to potential to reduce an unnecessary and inappropriate use of plastic material. Find out more about how cotton buds end up on our beaches here

Alternatives are available  

  • There already exists a fully biodegradable and readily available alternative to plastic stemmed cotton buds, in this case, stems made from FSC Certified paper. 
  • Indeed, many of the UK’s largest retailers are now using paper alternatives. For example, the UK-based company Polyco, produces Waitrose’s FSC-certified paper stemmed cotton buds. 

Industry has shown change is possible 

  • Johnson & Johnson Ltd, the UK market leader for cotton budswas the first manufacturer to agree to replace their brand-defining blue plastic cotton bud stems with paper. They publicly announced this in March 2016 at the same time as the retailer Waitrose made the same commitment.
  • Other major UK retailers have also change their sourcing and/or production (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Boots UK). 




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