Breaking: All plastic cotton buds banned after successful #SwitchTheStick campaign

We are today celebrating the news that the British Government is completely banning plastic cotton buds, stirrers and straws. The move has been in the offing for more than a year after the agreement of the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive and follows years of campaigning by  City to Sea including the successful #SwitchTheStick campaign.

The #SwitchTheStick campaign saw all major UK retailers announcing they would ‘Switch the Stick’ and only sell biodegradable paper stem buds. A move which stopped over 478 tonnes of single-use, non-recyclable plastic being produced each year.

Our founder Natalie Fee welcomed the news saying, “Since our successful #SwitchtheStick campaign in 2017 we’ve seen over 400 tonnes of plastic stopped at source each year through all major retailers having switched to paper stem buds. This ban will now mop up all the smaller retailers and pharmacies who still need to make the switch and hopefully make flushed cotton buds on UK riverbanks and beaches a thing of the past!”

Natalie also warned however that this is just the first step and that there is still a lot more to do. She continued, “Without sounding too much like a stick in the mud, today’s announcement also highlights how much more there is to do. We desperately need government to adopt a Deposit Return Scheme on all plastic bottles, we need them to commit to not send period products filled with plastics to schools and they need to be clear about how they plan to implement the EU’s Directive that demands countries ban other items including cutlery, plates, sticks for balloons, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastics.”

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SMK Award for Environmental Justice goes to #SwitchtheStick!

An evening of inspiration and celebration took place yesterday evening when the SMK 2017 Campaigner Awards celebrated this years’ leading campaigners and change-makers.

One of the winners is Bristol-based Natalie Fee, who has won the Environmental Justice Award for her ‘Switch the Stick’ campaign after being shocked at the amount of plastic cotton buds she was finding during beach cleans along the River Avon in Bristol and on beaches in Cornwall.

Natalie, who founded the campaign group City to Sea, secured funding from three water companies and soon after, secured 6000 signatures and 80,000 views of her campaign film. After being approached by 38 Degrees ‘Campaigns by You’, over 155,000 people signed the petition and over 100,000 viewed her second campaign film. By December 2016 all UK supermarkets had agreed to ‘Switch the Stick’ to paper, a move which will prevent at least 89 tonnes of single-use, potentially ‘flushable’ plastic being produced each year.

Cotton buds collected on a North Devon beach. © Michelle Cassar
Cotton buds collected on a North Devon beach. © Michelle Cassar

Speaking of her win, Natalie said: “Receiving the SMK Environmental Justice Award for my work with City to Sea is a huge win for the oceans and a great honour for us as an organisation. This kind of recognition will go a long way to help us and many other non-profits campaigning to stop marine plastic pollution in achieving our goals. Sheila McKechnie was a phenomenal force for change and it’s a great privilege to be championed by those continuing her legacy.”

SMK’s Chief Executive Sue Tibballs said: ‘The SMK Campaigner Awards provide us with a unique opportunity to support some of the inspiring, innovative and often courageous people who are speaking out to effect change.’

‘All of our winners this year are a credit to the causes they serve and our organisation is ready to provide them with mentoring and support in sustaining and taking forward their successful campaign work.’

City to Sea founder Natalie Fee receives her award from Eugenie Harvey, Director of the Frederick Mulder Foundation.
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ALL Major UK Retailers Pledge to ‘Switch the Stick’ to Stop Source of Plastic Pollution

All major UK retailers have agreed to phase out plastic cotton buds by the end of 2017 following concern over the number that are ending up on our beaches.

City to Sea, alongside Scottish charity Fidra, have been calling for retailers to phase out plastic-stemmed cotton and switch to paper to cut down the amount of plastic ending up on our beaches and in our rivers. City to Sea’s ‘Switch the Stick’ campaign has also been supported by over 155,000 members of 38 Degrees. To the delight of all, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Morrisons, Lidl, BootsUK, Superdrug and Wilko have communicated their commitment to ensure their own label cotton bud products will be made with paper stems by the end of 2017.

A Tesco’s spokesperson commented: “We’re committed to ensuring all of our own label cotton bud products will be made with paper stems, and will do this by the end of 2017.”

Similarly, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We have been working hard to improve this product. Our new cotton buds, with 100% biodegradable stems, will be available before the end of 2017.”

An Asda spokesperson said: “This is an area where we’re working hard to make a difference and we’re pleased to confirm that all our own brand cotton buds products will be made with paper stems by 2017.”

And an Aldi spokesperson said: “As a responsible retailer, we are committed to removing plastic from our cotton buds by the end of 2017.”

Natalie Fee, City to Sea founder: “We’re delighted with the commitment from so many major supermarkets to ‘Switch the Stick’ from plastic to paper stem buds. Whilst they still shouldn’t be flushed, this move will stop millions of plastic stems ending up in the marine environment each year and is a huge win in the fight against marine plastic pollution.”

Dr Clare Cavers, Research Officer from Fidra’s Cotton Bud Project: “Johnson & Johnson and Waitrose pledged to change to paper cotton buds in Spring this year, and we are very pleased to see other retailers following their lead. Plastic pollution in our seas is a major problem, so by making this positive change, we are a step closer to cleaner oceans.”

Plastic cotton bud stems are the number one item of plastic, sewage-related debris on our beaches and rivers [1] – yet UK retailers can help prevent this by switching the stick from plastic to paper – and over 155,000 people have shown their support to the cause by signing up to City to Sea’s campaign on the 38 Degrees website.

In the marine environment, plastics can be eaten by marine life, often with fatal consequences. Plastic is found in the stomachs of Loggerhead Turtles, seabirds and many species of UK-caught fish. And pieces that don’t get eaten break down into micro-plastics, forming part of a dangerous plastic smog in our seas.

The 38 Degrees petition has received over 155,000 signatures in support of the City to Sea campaign.

Trish Murray, campaigner at 38 Degrees, added: “The public’s overwhelming support for this campaign shows that there is a real desire for retailers to provide environmentally sound alternatives.’

It’s great news that six supermarkets in the UK have made a commitment this week following Natalie’s campaign and the support of thousands of 38 Degrees members. The huge petition has sent a clear message to all shops – customers expect them to switch to paper cotton buds to protect our wildlife and our seas.”

City to Sea's 'Fish & Sticks'
© City to Sea

[1] Beachwatch Report 2015, Marine Conservation Society




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