The United Kingdom will explore the possibility of banning plastic drinking straws as early as 2019, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced on April 19. Environment Secretary Michael Gove will launch a consultation on the issue later this year with the aim of stemming the flow of plastic pollution into the world’s oceans.
“Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife, so it is vital we act now,” Gove said in a press release.
The announcement only promises the government will explore the issue, and environmental advocates have been disappointed with the slow pace of similar actions on plastic bags and bottles, according to BBC science editor David Shukman. Nevertheless, The Guardian reports that a ban could be introduced as early as next year.
May made the announcement ahead of a meeting of the heads of state of the Commonwealth of Nations, claiming that the move might push other leaders to find ways to limit plastic pollution. Commonwealth member Kenya may in fact be leading the way — the African nation introduced rules in 2017 that made making or importing plastic bags into the country punishable by jail time.
May cited a recent study that estimated that Britons throw away 8.5 billion straws each year. While that number is under some dispute, the problem of plastic pollution has been in the spotlight across the pond. Beloved BBC documentarian David Attenborough used the final episode of his series Blue Planet II to highlight the problem, and his efforts reportedly convinced Queen Elizabeth herself to campaign against plastic use in Buckingham Palace and other royal estates.
Along with other single-use plastic items, straws have increasingly been targeted by environmental programs in recent years. Just last month, McDonald’s announced it would do away with straws in its U.K. restaurants, and Taiwan announced a long-term plan to ban them entirely, along with bags and plastic utensils, by 2030. With Earth Day coming up on April 22, you may want to start using biodegradable paper or bamboo straws, or a reusable metal one — alongside these 15 other Earth Day actions that can really make a difference.