Scotland pledges to ban plastic cotton buds

Scotland has unveiled plans to become the first UK country to ban the sale and manufacture of plastic stemmed cotton buds, in its latest bid to tackle marine plastics pollution.

A public consultation will be launched by the Scottish Government after concerns about the number of buds being washed up on beaches after being flushed down toilets.

“Banning plastic cotton buds would be a clear sign of our ambition to address marine plastics and demonstrate further leadership on this issue,” Scotland Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said. “Despite various campaigns, people are continuing to flush litter down their toilets. This has to stop.

“Scotland’s sewerage infrastructure collects and treats some 945 million litres of wastewater each day. These systems are not designed to remove small plastic items such as plastic buds which can kill marine animals and birds that swallow them.

“These products are completely unnecessary as biodegradable alternatives are readily available.”

‘Decisive action’

Research suggests that Scottish beach litter increased by 7% in 2017, with sewage related debris increasing by 40%.

Actions to tackle the issue by the Scottish Government include a commitment to a deposit return scheme and the creation of an expert panel to consider green levies of single-use items such as disposable coffee cups.

Campaigners believe the move to eliminate plastic-stemmed cotton buds will cut the country’s marine plastic pollution by half.

“This decisive action is great news for the environment and for wildlife,” Friends of the Earth Scotland director Richard Dixon said. “Cotton buds are a very visible sign of our hugely wasteful habits, turning up on beaches across the globe.

“Manufacturers and supermarkets are already moving in the right direction, but this single measure will guarantee that Scotland cuts its contribution to marine plastic pollution in half.”

War on plastic waste

Most big retailers have switched to biodegradable paper-stemmed buds, a move which Waitrose claims has enabled the company to save 21 tonnes of plastic. Last year, Sainsbury’s became the first British retailer to publicly commit to the complete removal of plastic from its cotton buds.

A UK ban on the manufacture of certain products containing plastic microbeads entered into force last week, although MPs and green groups reiterated the need for more action to tackle the global problem of plastic waste.

The UK Government’s long-awaited 25-year Environment Plan, launched yesterday (11 January), with a pledge to eliminate all “avoidable” plastic waste by the end of 2042. Proposals include an extended 5p plastic carrier bag charge to incorporate shops of all sizes, and a plan for supermarkets to adopt plastic-free aisles.

George Ogleby

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