2020 ban on plastic straws, cotton buds + stirrers set to come into force in England on 6 April 2020

UK and EU prepare for single use plastic bans

Single use plastic products are no longer just being discouraged – both the UK and the European Union are set to make some of these products illegal. As Defra produces draft legislation banning plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers and the EU continues work on its SUPs directive, Lucy Pegg examines the details of the upcoming laws.

Legislation to ban single use plastic is being developed in the UK and EU parliaments (image: Shutterstock)

From plastic drinks bottles to the wrapper on your sandwich, law makers in both the UK and EU governments are working to crack down on the waste created by these everyday items.

In the next five years policy on SUPs will see a number of items banned, with Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and taxes brought in to discourage the consumption of other disposable plastics.


Amidst the announcements and arguments over Brexit, some within Westminster are working on more niche projects – including a proposed 2020 ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers.

The ban was first announced by the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, in April 2018 and is now set to come into force in England on 6 April 2020, after draft legislation for it was published this week.

If passed by parliament it will become an offence to supply an end user with a single use plastic straw, cotton bud or stirrer, with those who break the ban facing a fine or compliance order.

But despite the apparent ‘ban’ on these single-use products, there are a number of exceptions included in Defra’s draft legislation.

As well as ensuring that plastic straws remain accessible for medical and accessibility purposes, it is also proposed that plastic straws attached to drinks containers (like juice cartons) remain legal. Straws will also remain available with food and drinks that are to be consumed immediately.

Theresa May announced the UK’s ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers in 2018, whilst she was Prime Minister

It will be legal to provide straws in a care home, premises used for early years provision, schools and all detention facilities too. Exemptions will be made so that cotton buds with plastic sticks can be used in scientific or forensic work.

The public appetite for legislation of this type has been noted by the government. In its response to a consultation on the new law, Defra highlighted the “extraordinary levels of public interest in the issue of plastic waste and litter” – 1602 responses to the consultation were received from industry, campaign groups and members of the public.

European Union

The EU is working on its own legislation to restrict the use of SUPs which, once implemented, will go further than that so far being proposed in Westminster.

In March the European Parliament approved measures proposed by the European Commission which hope to tackle marine litter by limiting the use of disposable plastic. This includes bans on selected single-use plastic items for which non-plastic alternatives exist – including expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers and all products made of oxo-degradable plastic, as well as specific items like cotton bud sticks, cutlery and sticks for balloons.

These bans wil