Plastic straws and drink stirrers are to be banned in England from April 2020.

The ban, which also includes plastic-stemmed cotton buds, follows an open consultation and will include exemptions to ensure those with medical needs or a disability have access to plastic straws.

As such, registered pharmacies will still be allowed to sell plastic straws over the counter and online. Meanwhile, catering establishments such as restaurants, pubs and bars will be able to provide them on request, but will not be able to display them or automatically hand them out.

More than 80% of the 1,602 responses to the consultation backed a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, while 90% backed a ban on plastic drinks stirrers.

“Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment. These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life,” said environment secretary Michael Gove.

“So today I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”

In England, it has been estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws and 316 million plastic stirrers are used annually. And, despite non-plastic alternatives being readily available it is believed 95% of straws used are still plastic.

The ban has been backed by UKHospitality, the trade body for the hospitality sector, which was formed by a merger of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and British Hospitality Association in 2018.

“We fully support the Government’s objective to drastically reduce unnecessary single-use plastic,” said UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls, noting her support for the exemptions. “The hospitality sector has voluntarily made significant progress in reducing the availability and use of plastic straws and stirrers, motivated both by a moral duty and our customers’ environmental concerns.”

The UK has been taking steps to reduce plastic waste, which culminated in the publication of the UK Plastics Pact Roadmap to 2025 late last year. It outlined the key steps businesses needed to take to reduce plastic waste, including eliminating problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging and making 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable.