Tuesday 28 May 2019 8:02 am

DEBATE: Is the government right to ban single-use plastics like straws in a bid to reduce ocean pollution?

Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.
and Emma Revell
Emma Revell is head of public affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs

Is the government right to ban single-use plastics like straws in a bid to reduce ocean pollution?

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, says YES.

The government’s ban on straws, drinks stirrers and plastic-stalked cotton buds is an important development in the right direction. It should be supported, but on the understanding that it is a small and sadly inadequate step.

How many plastic straws have you used in your lifetime, given to you whether you wanted them or not? A lot, but by volume they make up only a tiny fraction of the plastics pressed on you by companies, supermarkets and fast food chains.

What’s needed is a ban on all unnecessary single-use plastics. Our planet is choked with plastic. It is in the food we eat, the water we drink, and killing our wildlife. We can stop adding more. And we should acknowledge that “recyclable” doesn’t mean “going to be recycled”. It is no answer.

If the UK stays in the EU, we’ll have to make these changes anyway, and go further, ending the use of plastic cups and food containers by 2021. If it leaves, we’re likely to carry on polluting while our European neighbours continue cleaning up their act.

Read more: We must not let Brexit distract from the global war on single-use plastic

Emma Revell, communications manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

Banning plastic straws and coffee stirrers is virtue signalling of the worst kind. It might make for good headlines and poll well with the public, but the impact on our oceans is likely to be minimal and the cost and inconvenience will be high.

Straws account for 0.03 per cent of plastic waste in our oceans. Discarded fishing nets, on the other hand, account for almost half. By focusing on very narrow examples of plastic pollution, we risk tricking ourselves into thinking that we’re tackling the issue while achieving very little.

The free market can and does provide plastic alternatives, which will inevitably become cheaper and more accessible as demand grows. The government should resist the urge to ban things – a slippery slope that will only end with more things being unnecessarily banned – and make way for entrepreneurs and innovators to develop alternatives that will make it easier than ever for people to live a low-plastic, low-carbon lifestyle.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.