cotton buds

More than 20 campaigners wrote an open letter

  • Campaigners claim businesses are using the outbreak to get the government to take back plastic reduction pledges

  • Defra is to delay the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until at least October 

  • The Scottish government pushed back its plans for the rollout of a bottle deposit return scheme last month


Food and drink companies have strongly rejected claims they are using the coronavirus crisis to block the introduction of new laws on plastic reduction.

Today more than 20 campaigners, including scientists, campaigners and politicians, wrote an open letter claiming businesses were taking advantage of the outbreak to get government to row back on plastic reduction pledges.

It follows last week’s announcement by Defra that it will delay the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until at least October and the Scottish government’s move to push back the rollout of deposit return schemes by a year - as well as the lifting of charges for plastic bags in online deliveries.

The letter, from the Plastic Health Coalition, was signed by scientific experts including Dr Susan Shaw, founder and executive director of the Shaw Institute, Professor Sascha Hooker at the University of St Andrews, and Professor Julia Stegemann from University College London.

It says: “As the world rushes to deal with the worst pandemic for generations, corporate lobbyists are using public anxiety about Covid-19 to promote their business agenda.


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“Ceding to their demands risks further prolonging the exposure of some of the world’s most vulnerable people to the effects of crises like climate change and plastic pollution.”

A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland added: “Only a rigid adherence to the best available science will see mankind overcome Covid-19.

“Now more than ever before world leaders must employ the same cool hard logic when it comes to protecting the environment from some of the worst excesses of big business.”

Suppliers deny claims 

However, a major supplier heavily involved in talks on plastic reduction vehemently denied the industry had been taking advantage of the crisis.

“These claims are misjudged and ill informed,” said the source. “Far from spending its time lobbying on plastic, the industry has been concentrating on one thing and that has been trying to get food to the public during an unprecedented crisis.

“The delays that have been announced have been a case of sensible recognition from governments that the timeframe for some of these measures is simply not workable given the current climate.

“For example, how is the industry supposed to continue testing new DRS machines when our factories are only open for mission critical staff?”

Strategies such as the government’s Environment Bill, including plans for a tax on single-use plastic, face huge question marks over timeframe and costs.

Earlier this month, the Scottish government pushed back its plans for the rollout of a bottle deposit return scheme after its “impossible” timeframe was made even more challenging by the coronavirus outbreak.

Legislation set out by ministers today revealed the date for DRS to become effective north of the border had been pushed back from April 2021 to July 2022.

With the cost of DRS alone estimated at £2.2bn UK-wide, campaigners fear flagship projects could end up being ditched.