Pollution and Waste

– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th January 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

3. It is welcome that the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government are both attempting to respond to the growing concern about plastic pollution, although the UK Government might be accused of kicking the issue into the long grass in talking about what it might achieve by 2042. The Scottish Government wants to highlight the problem of discarded cotton buds. To be fair, that is a much easier matter to address, as change is already happening and alternative products are already in the shops.

The issue is far more challenging and urgent than that, given the fact that China is understandably unwilling to keep taking ever more of the west’s plastic waste and that people will not—and should not—simply accept the building of more incinerators around the country. Does the First Minister accept that, if we frame the issue merely as plastic litter, there is a risk that we imply that it is all about consumer behaviour instead of placing responsibility firmly where it belongs, with the highly profitable businesses and industries that are the real source of the problem?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Yes, I agree with that, although it has to be both. There is an obligation on companies and a real responsibility on them to get their own houses in order. In that respect, I agree with Patrick Harvie. We also have to encourage consumers to change their behaviour, and I would certainly back efforts to do that. Governments must consider the levers that they have and whether they can impose levies on single-use plastic products or take other actions to reduce the use of disposable plastic.

The Scottish Government has a good record through the action that it has already taken on the plastic bag levy, for example, and we have announced our intention to introduce a deposit-return scheme for drinks containers, which Patrick Harvie and the Greens have welcomed. We have also announced our intention to set up an expert group to look at other levies and actions that could be taken on other products, such as plastic straws. I pay tribute to Kate Forbes, who will ask a question later in First Minister’s question time, for the campaign that she has launched on straws. As Patrick Harvie says, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform today announced our intention to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

We are taking a range of actions, and that is the right approach. It is not about letting any particular interest off the hook; it is about companies, consumers and Governments. I absolutely agree with Patrick Harvie that the matter is urgent. It is more urgent than the 25-year timescale than the Prime Minister has set out implies.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Plastic pollution is utterly connected to our society’s economic addiction to oil and gas. Fossil fuels and industrial chemicals are two sides of the same coin. This week, we learned that one oil industry voice wants decommissioned rigs simply to be dumped in the sea, which would result in millions of tonnes of industrial waste, while cotton buds made the headlines. Another fossil fuel company wants to take the Government to court for protecting Scotland from fracking.

The UK Government and the Scottish Government like to claim credit for environmental action, but they also want ever bigger tax breaks for the fossil fuel companies that are at the root of our environmental crisis. Is it not time to recognise that we can no longer invest our future in the fossil fuel industry and that we should, instead, join the hundreds of cities, institutions and countries that are truly leading? They include New York, which this week confirmed that it is taking the fight to the fossil fuel industry with legal action and a programme of divestment. Will the First Minister accept that it is time to embrace a positive, fossil fuel-free future for Scotland?

The First Minister:

We support our oil and gas sector appropriately because it is important to our economy and lots of jobs depend on it. However, whether members agree or disagree with that, I genuinely do not think that it is fair to criticise the Scottish Government for a lack of action in our support for renewable energy.

If anything, we are a world leader when it comes to the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. For example, in the programme for government we set out our ambition for electric and low-emission vehicles, on which we will take even greater action in the longer term. As Patrick Harvie has alluded, we have also taken the decision not to allow fracking in Scotland. Given this week’s announcement of the judicial review, I will not say more about that other than that we are confident in the decision that we have taken and the process behind it.

We will continue to lead by example. The issue is important not just for this generation but for generations to come. We all have a responsibility to do the right thing, and this Government will continue to make sure that we do it.