Holyrood halts production of polluting plastic cotton buds

New laws to ban the sale and production of plastic-stemmed cotton buds have been implemented in Scotland.

The move was prompted by an escalating number of the plastic stems washing up on shores around the country.

It is estimated that 1.8 million of the cotton buds are sold around the United Kingdom every year, with many being flushed down toilets and ending up in the ocean.

The product has been seen as a concern for marine and land wildlife alike, with toxins released from the plastic feared to be poisoning water supplies.

Many suppliers have already switched to paper stems, including Johnson and Johnson, in the lead up to the laws being implemented.

Speaking to The Student, Edinburgh University Students’ Association Vice President Community Rosheen Wallace said: “This is a great step taken by the Scottish government that paves the way towards eliminating single-use plastic.”

The Students’ Association previously sold cotton buds in the shop at Pollock halls, but these have already been replaced with a paper alternative.

The new plastic cotton bud ban has been celebrated as a “fantastic win” by the Marine Conservation Society who, in the past 25 years, has cleared more than 150,000 of the stems from public beaches across the UK.

In a statement, Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I am proud that the Scottish Government has become the first UK administration to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds, with regulations laid in Parliament on 2 September now coming into force.

“Single-use plastic products are not only wasteful but generate unnecessary litter that blights our beautiful beaches and green spaces while threatening our wildlife on land and at sea.

“This ban builds on work already underway to address Scotland’s throw-away culture, and we will continue to take action on other problematic items in the coming years as part of our efforts to reduce harmful plastics and single-use items, protect our environment and develop a thriving circular economy.

“We are facing a global climate emergency and must all work together to reduce, reuse and recycle to ensure a sustainable future for the current and next generation.”

Speaking to the BBC, Project Manager at Scottish environmental charity Fidra Heather MacFarlane said: “Now we are seeing this ban come into place, that will pick up those last few retailers and manufacturers who haven’t made the switch from plastic to paper.

“The plastic cotton buds have been washing up on beaches for years and they get into the environment in quite high numbers.

“They are particularly damaging to wildlife. They have been found in our native bird populations and in the intestines of turtles. You can just imagine the damage that can do.”

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks added: “Cotton buds are some of the most pervasive forms of marine pollution, so a ban is very welcome step and one that we hope other countries will follow.

“We know plastic is suffocating our seas and devastating our wildlife with millions of birds, fish, and mammals dying each year because of the plastic in our oceans. ”

Plastics are also finding their way into the food we eat and the water we drink, so saving our oceans will require further ambitious action from governments, industry, and consumers.”

This follows from the Scottish government’s recent commitment to tackling climate change after being the first government to declare a climate crisis.

Similar steps towards banning single-use products have been taken by the rest of the UK, with bans on plastic straws and coffee stirrers being introduced nationwide over the next year.

The UK has been taking measures to prevent the distribution of single-use products over the past few years, with the 2018 microbead ban lauded as one of the toughest in the world by campaigners.

The UK 5p bag charge has also successfully taken “billions” of bags out of circulation and, according to the website, “puts the UK at the forefront of international efforts to crack down on plastic pollution,” while Scotland’s new Deposit Return Scheme has also been created in aid of this single-use reduction mission.

The EU single-use Plastics Directive has called for the ban or restriction of all products made from disposable plastics by July 2021.


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