Images shared of plastic straws and cotton buds floating in the sea next to jellyfish and turtles have had a powerful effect on many who have seen them over the last year.

Not only have plastic straws become unpopular with many individuals, the government have also started to take notice. This week the UK Government have published their draft legislation banning plastic straws, plastic stirrers and cotton buds as of April 2020.

Although the sale of these items will still be permitted within certain industries, these single use plastic items will only be allowed for use where medically needed. A huge step in the right direction.

The reason this environmentally friendly legislation has been passed successfully? – The consultation process had such strong public support with over 80% of the public agreeing with the ban and the majority of the remaining 20% stating they should only be allowed where medically needed. The result shows that the opinions of the masses really can make a difference.

Although there was an overwhelming response to ban these plastic items, over half the respondents within the consultation groups were unsure of the alternatives. If we get rid of one product and just replace it with something else, we need to understand the impacts. Otherwise we could end up just swapping one environmental problem for another.

So… what are the alternatives?

Well the best thing for the environment is to not use straws or cotton buds at all (unless needed for medical reasons). Reducing waste is the simplest thing we can do to protect this world – saving energy, materials, transport and landfill room (or more energy and transport to recycle).

Cotton buds

Did you know that using cotton buds in your ears actually stimulates the production of more wax than you had to start with! Plus they are one of the most common reasons for ear infections, build up of wax and blocked ears. So by not using them you will be both benefitting your health and the environment. If you are adamant you want to use them then opt for wooden or or paper based sticks and compost them where you can.

Straws

Due to popularity many pubs and restaurants have already switched to paper straws in favour of plastic. But are these actually any better?

The simple answer is yes, but only slightly because they biodegrade a lot quicker. They are still a wasteful single use item, using trees and energy to make something you use for a few minutes before throwing away.

The other options becoming more readily available include bamboo or metal straws. Out of the two, bamboo is more environmentally friendly in its production and if looked after can last a couple of years. Metal have a bigger impact in production but could last a lifetime, so it depends if you are a long term straw drinker willing to look after this product (and you are someone who will remember to take it with you to use!)

Overall do we really need any straws? What’s wrong with simply enjoying your drink from a glass as we have done for many years.

Cutting out single use plastic is a huge step in the right direction, but cutting out single use anything is even better whatever material it is made from.

Do you have bamboo or metal straws? If so what are your thoughts. Are they as good as the marketing machines make out?

Caroline Talbot
Author: Caroline Talbot