A ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England has been delayed by six months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The throwaway items were due to be banned from April to tackle pollution and protect the environment, after a consultation revealed “overwhelming” public support for the move.
The ban has exemptions allowing those who need to use plastic straws for medical reasons or a disability to buy them from registered pharmacies or request them in restaurants, pubs and bars, and the use of plastic-stemmed cotton buds for medical and scientific purposes.
The public consultation showed more than 80% of respondents backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% a ban on cotton buds.
It is estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used each year in England, with around 10% of cotton buds flushed down toilets, often ending up in waterways or oceans, the Government said.
It is hoped millions of pounds could be saved annually on clean-up efforts of used plastics.
But the Environment Department (Defra) has now delayed the introduction of the ban due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
A Defra spokesman said: “Given the huge challenges posed to businesses by coronavirus, we have confirmed we will delay the introduction of our ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until October 2020.
“We remain absolutely committed to turning the tide on the widespread use of single-use plastics and the threat they pose to our natural environment.
“This ban is yet another measure to clamp down on unnecessary plastic so we can better protect our precious wildlife and leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”
The delay was criticised by campaigners against plastic pollution.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet said: “If the demand for this delay actually came from the NHS and frontline workers rather than the plastics industry; of course every plastic activist would be in agreement.
“But no, the plastic lobbyists have been working overtime and have succeeded here.
“Let’s hope this isn’t the beginning of a slippery slope when the UK public have made it very clear that they want industry to protect nature, not continue to pollute and destroy it.”