Both the Queen and the Prime Minister are taking advantage of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting currently underway at Buckingham Palace to emphasise the need to cut back on plastic waste.

Theresa May said that the UK is taking the lead on addressing the global issue, which she called “one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove will begin a consultation later this year to determine the most effective ways the country can reduce its use of plastic products. The idea of banning plastic straws and cotton buds in England has already been proposed as a part of the effort.

“We’re going to consult on what the best way is in order to get rid of straws, get rid of stirrers and also get rid of plastic stemmed cotton buds that we use so many of,” said Gove.

A report by the WWF estimates that 13.2 billion cotton buds and 42 million plastic straws will be consumed in 2018 in the UK, which ranks first and second respectively among EU countries.

Some measures are already in place to combat plastic waste, such as charges for plastic bags and the ban on microbeads. The UK will encourage other countries to follow suit at the Commonwealth meeting, where leaders from the 53 states that make up the organisation are present.

“Alongside our domestic action, this week we are rallying Commonwealth countries to join us in the fight against marine plastics,” said Mrs. May. “Together we can effect real change so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.”

Plastic waste is so damaging to the environment because it takes centuries to break down. The UK is looking to spearhead a global campaign to cut back on the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills and waterways.

A three-year study published in Scientific Reports in March found that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now about 1.6 million square kilometres in size, about three times the size of France.

Prominent environmentalists have already come out in support of the proposed ban, which does still need to undergo a consultation period to determine if it would be effective.

Organisations Greenpeace UK and Friends of the Earth both said the ban would be a step in the right direction, but more action would still be needed.

“The only long-term solution is a complete phase-out of all but the most essential plastics,” said Julian Kirby, the lead campaigner against plastics for Friends of the Earth.

Mrs May has pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.

It remains to be seen if cotton buds and plastic straws will be banned, but it’s a positive sign that the UK government is beginning to work towards solving the problem.

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

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