Scotland proposes total ban on plastic cotton buds

Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has proposed an outright ban on the sale and manufacture of plastic cotton buds in an ambitious move to mitigate the flow of plastics waste entering the oceans and washing up on Scottish beaches.

The MSP was visiting Gullane beach in East-Lothian when she made the announcement yesterday (11 January).

A recent clean-up operation conducted on the beach by The Cotton Bud Project, a campaign run by Scottish Environmental charity Fidra, found hundreds of plastic buds washed up.

Outlining the need for a ban, Cunningham said: “Banning plastic cotton buds would be a clear sign of our ambition to address marine plastics and demonstrate further leadership on this issue. Despite various campaigns, people are continuing to flush litter down their toilets. This has to stop.

Scotland proposes total ban on plastic cotton buds

“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. The need for action is clear and I would encourage everyone with an interest in safeguarding our natural environment to take part in the consultation when it opens."

The proposal will go to public consultation before the Scottish parliament can introduce legislation to ban plastic stems.

The stems consistently appear in the top ten types of beach litter in surveys by the Marine Conservation Society.

The Great British Beach Clean Up 2017 organised by the Society in September found a worrying 26 cotton buds per 100m of beaches. This figure has almost tripled since 2012, when the average was just 11 per 100m.

Catherine Gemmell, the Society’s conservation officer, said: "After finding over 3,500 plastic cotton bud sticks on beaches across Scotland during our Great British Beach Clean in 2017, we're delighted to hear Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham’s plans to ban the making and selling of them in Scotland.

"For things that are maybe used for just five minutes to clean out ears or put on eye make-up - they can cause huge impacts on our oceans for hundreds of years."

Alasdair Neilson, a project officer at Fidra, said: “This progressive step will be welcomed by everyone who has seen cotton buds polluting our beaches and harming our wildlife.

"A ban would support the responsible businesses that have already removed this single-use plastic item from their shelves. Let’s hope it also marks a bigger shift in the way we use and value plastics.”

Last February, the market leader for cotton buds Johnson and Johnson announced it would switch from plastic to paper stems. Many of the major supermarkets have followed suit or have promised to by 2018, but plastic stems from smaller suppliers are still available.

The full results of the most recent Great British Beach Clean can be seen on the Marine Conservation Society’s website.

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