Michael Gove denies EU is 'one step ahead' on plastic straw ban

Minister in Twitter spat with Brussels after suggesting UK ban could be prevented by EU

Michael Gove has become embroiled in a Twitter row with the EU over his suggestion that Brussels could block the UK government from banning plastic straws.

The environment secretary and Frans Timmermans, a European commission vice-president, goaded each other on the social media platform over their rival claims to be the most advanced in clamping down on plastic waste.

Gove had criticised plastic straws during interviews on Friday, but went on to suggest that his hope of enforcing a ban could run into obstacles because of EU legislation.

“There is some concern that EU laws mean that we can’t ban straws at moment, but I’m doing everything I can to ensure that we end this scourge and I hope to make an announcement shortly,” said Gove, who was a prominent supporter of Brexit during the referendum campaign.

Timmermans shot back: “.@michaelgove One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us? #EUDoesntSuck #StrongerTogether #PlasticsStrategy”.

.@michaelgove One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us? #EUDoesntSuck #StrongerTogether #PlasticsStrategy https://t.co/hbBBXT1eGa

— Frans Timmermans (@TimmermansEU) February 23, 2018

A few hours later, Gove belittled the EU’s claims. “There has been no specific proposal – as yet – from the EU to ban straws,” he tweeted. “The EU has promised ‘analytical work’ on the ‘scope of a legislative initiative’ to ‘reduce’ single use plastics. Also waiting for the EU to catch up on microbeads – UK’s ban is 1st in Europe #greenbrexit”.

There has been no specific proposal - as yet - from the EU to ban straws. The EU has promised “analytical work” on the “scope of a legislative initiative” to “reduce” single use plastics. Also waiting for the EU to catch up on microbeads - UK’s ban is 1st in Europe #greenbrexit https://t.co/Ohplb3ZtXt

— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) February 23, 2018

A commission spokesman declined to respond to Gove’s tweet, suggesting the EU’s “point has been made”.

Every year, Europeans generate 25m tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling.

A plastics strategy announced by Theresa May in January, under which small shops as well as supermarkets would be required to charge for the provision of plastic bags, was widely criticised as lacking substance.

When Timmermans announced an EU strategy on single-use plastic in January, to ensure it is recyclable or reusable by 2030, he specifically mentioned plastic straws as something he wanted to eradicate. Member states will also need to reduce the use of plastic bags per person from 90 a year to 40 by 2026.

The commissioner told the Guardian: “If children knew what the effects are of using single-use plastic straws for drinking sodas, or whatever, they might reconsider and use paper straws or no straws at all.

“We are going to choke on plastic if we don’t do anything about this. How many millions of straws do we use every day across Europe? I would have people not use plastic straws any more. It only took me once to explain to my children. And now … they go looking for paper straws, or don’t use straws at all.”

The Marine Conservation Society estimates the UK uses 8.5bn straws a year and they are among the top 10 waste items found on beaches. According to the campaign group Refuse the Straw, straws can take over 200 years to break down.


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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