The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-10307, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on stemming the plastic tide: action to tackle the impact of single-use plastics on land and in our seas. I encourage members by saying that I have asked all opening speakers to trim their opening remarks. Even with that, because of the level of interest in the previous statement, we are pushed for time. I am reluctant to extend decision time beyond 5.30 pm—we have already extended it to then—so I ask all members to try to speak to their time slots or within them.
I am sure that I am not the only person in the chamber who has spent the past six weeks or so surveying their plastic usage and becoming dismayed at the ubiquity of plastic in our daily lives. We are living through an extraordinary moment of individual and collective self-scrutiny that is clearly influenced by all that we have seen on “Blue Planet II”.
Having an intellectual understanding of the damage that is caused by plastics in our environment and seeing the graphic and distressing consequences of it in the real world are two vastly different things. The academic has moved to the real, and everyone has woken up to the need for action. As individuals, as a society and as a Government, we can be in no doubt that we have reached a turning point in public acceptance of the need for radical change. However, that change will not be easy. Plastic has become a fundamental part of our lives: the pen that I write with, the credit card that I use, the takeaway coffee cups and the disposable cutlery are all plastic. We wrap our food in it, store our food in it and build with it. Therefore, it would be all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenge.
We might not be able to eradicate all plastics from our lives, but that should not prevent us from removing the use of plastic where we can. The best way to approach that is the simplest way: a return to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra—Claudia Beamish may smile, because that clarification came from a conversation with her—thereby reducing its use at source, through changes in manufacturing and production, and reducing demand by changing consumer behaviour. There is a role for Government but also a role for manufacturers, retailers and consumers.
Legislation may work but, whether we like it or not, legislation takes time. The #NaeStrawAtAw campaign is leading the way, working faster than we could and showing what can be achieved when an idea’s time has come and people get behind it.
We are already acting to reduce the use of single-use plastics and directly address marine litter. Last month, I announced our intention to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic-stem cotton buds in Scotland, building on recent steps taken to ban the sale of rinse-off personal care products containing microbeads. I took that decision because of compelling evidence about the harm that those plastic stems are doing to our natural environment and because alternative biodegradable options are readily available.
Those are just two items on a long list of the types of litter that are washing up on our shores, which includes wet wipes; plastic cotton bud stems; drinks containers; packaging from crisps, sandwiches and sweets; bottle caps; and other plastic in the form of large items and small, barely-recognisable fragments including nurdles. There is our starter for 10.
However, in taking action, it is important that we do not inadvertently disadvantage groups within society or damage the environment by encouraging the use of an alternative that raises environmental concerns. For example, disabled people have expressed legitimate concerns that we must all hear and pay heed to. We need to recognise the benefit that the use of plastics brings to many. Single-person households, low-income families, and older people all benefit from affordable access to hygienically wrapped prepared fruit and vegetables. I will also meet disabled people and representatives from other groups to ensure that our thinking on these matters is grounded in real-world understanding.
I can also announce that I will appoint a disability adviser to the expert panel that I am setting up as part of our programme for government to provide advice on action to reduce the use of single-use items. That will ensure that the panel takes a fully rounded approach and considers all the evidence and consequences before making recommendations.
In some areas, it is not clear what powers are available to the Scottish Parliament to tackle these issues, and some might be reserved. We therefore need to develop the evidence base quickly to allow us to act in a planned, considered and co-ordinated way on the things that will make the greatest difference. I will refer items such as plastic straws and disposable cups to the expert panel for it to consider how to reduce their use.
We need to cut or reduce the use of plastic where possible, not throw it away, which means reuse or recycling. The issue of single-use plastic, which I have just discussed, is probably the biggest part of that challenge, but other plastics, which might not be for single use, are also a problem. Keeping items in circulation makes a difference. There is also a challenge from hidden plastics such as the substances in cigarette papers and tea bags, which might surprise many people.
When we really cannot or will not hold on to an item any longer, where does it go and how is it treated? Any deposit return system that we introduce will have to provide a route through which drinks containers can be collected with minimal contamination for high-value recycling. That is why we are taking the time to develop a Scottish solution rather than importing a model from elsewhere. In late summer, I expect to consult on a range of options for a new system and the types of containers that it will collect.
I want to see an ambitious, modern deposit return scheme that covers not only plastic but cans and glass bottles, so that we can capture as much material as possible and send it for high-value recycling.
Rather than take action in a piecemeal way, we must grasp the full potential to drive environmental benefit and build a truly resource-efficient Scottish economy that harnesses new technology, creates new jobs, and develops new skills. That means catalysing the innovation and infrastructure that is required to make full use of materials. Innovations such as project beacon combine a variety of new technologies to sort and process different types of plastic. Together, the small and medium-sized enterprises behind project beacon have been awarded more than £1 million from our circular economy investment fund. That is exactly the type of approach that Scotland can and must encourage.
It is unhelpful to have the Conservatives trying to shoehorn the issue of incinerators into the debate. That is an important issue, but it needs to be dealt with in a far more thoughtful manner.
I share some of the cabinet secretary’s concerns about the way in which the issue has, as she said, been shoehorned into the debate. Nevertheless, it is an important issue and it would be helpful if she could give a commitment to set aside Government time for a wider discussion on the issue of incineration in due course.
I would be happy to do that and to talk to any member who is particularly concerned about the issue.
Although we must do all that we can to stem the plastic tide that is lapping at Scotland’s shores, plastics are a global problem, and a global problem requires global action. We are determined that Scotland should play its part. Later this year, we will host an OSPAR
intercessional correspondence group for marine litter and, as announced in the programme for government, we will hold an international conference in 2019 to discuss collective action on marine litter.
I also welcome the European Union’s proposal to require that all single-use plastics be reusable or easily recycled by 2030. That is exactly the sort of market signal that industry needs, and I have no hesitation in signing Scotland up to that vision, Brexit or no Brexit.
We are reminded daily that people make change happen. From Aberdeenshire to Ayrshire, inspiring campaigns and grass-roots action are revolutionising attitudes without the intervention of politicians. They are people such as the children of Sunnyside primary school; communities such as Ullapool that are tackling plastic straw use head on; the children of Gullane, who are busy trying to clean the beach there; and the primary 3 children at Our Lady’s primary school in my constituency, with their wild bottle sighting campaign.
I pay tribute to every individual who takes action to stem our plastic tide—the people who pick up litter on their way to work and who support community beach cleans—and I recognise the work of charities, including the Marine Conservation Society and Fidra, for organising events such as the great nurdle hunt, which collected over 500,000 plastic nurdles during an eight-hour beach clean on the Firth of Forth. Nurdles and beach litter in general are a hugely important issue. That is why we have committed £500,000 to begin to address litter sinks around the coastline of Scotland.
I can also announce that, on 18 June, I will host an international summit on marine litter in Oban. The summit will bring together manufacturers and retailers, marine and environmental stakeholders and, crucially, people who live in our coastal communities, who are most affected by marine litter. It will aim to identify and develop actions that we can all take to tackle the issue. We cannot and must not leave it to someone else to tackle. It is not someone else’s problem—it is everyone’s problem.
All around Scotland, communities, individuals and charities are doing amazing things—big and small, organised and spontaneous. We can be proud of the fact that, once Sir David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II” struck a chord on a Sunday night, Scotland stepped into action on the Monday morning.
We know that many people were already tackling the problem. Those campaigns and actions have created energy for change that we must not waste. We must take an evidence-based approach and consider where further legislation is needed, but we must not wait for the law to change when we can get on and change our behaviours as suppliers and consumers.
Scotland has been voted the most beautiful country in the world. It is our duty and privilege to protect and enhance that beauty and to take bold steps, where they are available to us, to stem the plastic tide.
Presiding Officer, I have given you an extra minute to play with.
That the Parliament acknowledges and shares the increasing recognition of the cumulative damage that plastics are doing to the environment and economy, not just domestically but also globally; agrees that there is a need for an evidence-based approach to tackle the problem; welcomes the actions that the Scottish Government and others have taken to tackle litter at source and in areas of litter accumulation, and supports the aim to both encourage behaviour change in society and to seek legislative solutions to this problem where necessary and appropriate.
The cabinet secretary is quite right to let us know about the extra time. The previous item overran considerably, so the opening speakers have agreed to cut their times. I am also requiring all open debate speakers to cut their speeches to no more than 4 minutes and 30 seconds, which will allow everybody who wants to take part in the debate to do so. Everybody is on the same tightrope and everybody has to give up some time.
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests with respect to having worked for Zero Waste Scotland.
Having listened to the cabinet secretary, I like her starter for 10, as she described it. There is much that we agree with in her motion, such as using an evidence-based approach, encouraging behaviour change and seeking legislative solutions where necessary and appropriate.
Similarly, Mark Ruskell’s amendment is one that we can support. We need to address the issue of microfibres, as they harm humans as well as animals, and our marine animals in particular. Although I appreciate that time will be short, I hope that he will address the question of synthetic versus natural fibres, as sometimes the life-cycle assessment for products that are made with cotton, for example, can be higher than for synthetics. Until we get the dream goal of fibre to fibre textile recycling, resolving that issue could prove tricky. The love your clothes campaign, which addresses how we go about laundering our clothes, could be helpful in that regard.
We very much agree with Claudia Beamish’s amendment and support what it says about developing an alternative to single-use plastic. Where we can, that is something that we should do, either by banning single-use plastic or by using other economic instruments, where there are viable alternatives.
On the remanufacturing of plastics, to be fair to the Scottish Government, I say that it is certainly supporting that through the Strathclyde institute of remanufacturing, which is helping to lead the way in that context.
My amendment aims to ensure that new incineration facilities are not allowed to be built in Scotland. If we are going to do all the positive work on plastics and the wider agenda that we are discussing, it would be incongruous if Scotland were then to become the ashtray of Europe.
The member could have had a word with ministers in the SNP Government and ensured that there would be a moratorium on all new incineration facilities.
It is quite right and appropriate that, if we are serious about tackling climate change, we do not see a twelvefold increase in incineration capacity over the next five years. It is quite within the rights of local authorities to look to build new incineration capacity, but it is a requirement of central Government to consider how that fits with our wider goals. I say that incineration does not fit with those wider goals. It does not make sense to take products that have been produced halfway around the world and have been used for only a short time and immediately burn them.
Time is short, so I will briefly address the other aspects. As we know, 80 per cent of litter in the sea comes from land, and an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. In fact, by 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the oceans, by weight, than fish. That is a very worrying statistic. More than 250 marine species are already ingesting plastic litter, which is a concern for us all.
One of the ways in which we can begin to tackle that is through producer responsibility. Essentially, that helps to ensure that those who produce the product will also pay the cost of its disposal as waste. It can also help to influence design. Designing for disassembly, repair and prevention of litter is critically important. If members cast their minds back to the days of aluminium cans that had a detachable ring pull, they will remember that the ring pull was often the part that became litter. Because of that, we redesigned the ring pulls so that they remained on the can. Similarly, we could ensure that, when someone tears open a confectionary wrapper to get to the chocolate inside, the little corner of wrapper does not tear off and become litter that is difficult to collect. If we can enhance producer responsibility, we can redesign those wrappers so that those corners do not rip off so easily and are more likely to be put in a bin. Ultimately, that will help to tackle litter and prevent some of the environmental harm.
We also need to look at viable alternatives to plastic. For example, in Edinburgh, Vegware makes catering disposables from plant-based materials instead of plastics—I am sure that other companies are available as well. That certified compostable packaging degrades in 12 weeks, which is more advantageous than the 500 years that it could take for plastic to degrade.
We also need to step up our game in terms of our recycling targets, as our recycling rate in Scotland is plateauing and we are in danger of missing the 2025 target. Deposit return, which will be covered by my colleague Maurice Corry, will have a part to play if we can design the correct scheme. Ideally, it will be a pan-United Kingdom system.
Overall on litter, there is a role for increasing fines and for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to investigate fly-tipping in particular. We need to make sure that we achieve behaviour change. Ultimately, we need to have producer responsibility and we need to prevent waste, increase recycling, look at deposit return and achieve behaviour change on litter.
I move amendment S5M-10307.1, to insert at end:
“, and calls for a moratorium on any new incineration facilities to support Scotland’s journey towards a more circular economy.”
I welcome the Scottish Government’s motion for debate today, and I add Labour’s voice to the call to ban single-use plastics in Scotland by 2030.
If we were to visualise our own individual trails of plastic waste, we would all be horrified—and now many of us have done so. Now that the conversation about single-use plastic is wide open, we can identify more products that are so unnecessarily single use, such as water bottles, straws, cotton buds, microbeads in cosmetics, wet wipes and many more. I was recently contacted by a constituent who highlighted the wastefulness of crisp packets, and that has stressed to me how the issue is at the forefront of collective consciousness.
Reducing the use of such items is the first step, and I reiterate my support for the developing bans. The alternatives are already there, and they are often money saving, too—for example, KeepCups, bags for life and menstrual cups. While I was a teacher at a primary school in South Lanarkshire, the pupils brought in proper water bottles from home to refill at the tap, rather than having them delivered every day from the council. This week, the EU has announced that it will oblige national Governments to provide greater access to drinking fountains in order to clamp down on plastic waste.
Some packaging does not even have information on it about whether it is recyclable, such as the cup that I have here, which I mention without shaming any particular supermarket. Therefore one challenge for the regulators is to set the standard for what is on the bottom of packets.
I congratulate all the private sector initiatives that are tackling the issue. Among others, the Scotch Whisky Association has committed to phasing out plastic straws and stirrers, and that is on top of its commitment for all the industry’s packaging to be 100 per cent recyclable by 2020.
Action by the public sector is vital, too. Catherine McClymont, one of our councillors in South Lanarkshire, is leading on a motion to address single-use plastics. I encourage others in the public sector to follow suit.
I do not have time today—I am sorry.
It is essential that the Scottish Government gives guidance and support to manufacturers that are changing the materials that they use, as is reflected in our amendment today.
The successful design of a deposit return scheme in Scotland is an opportunity for environmental progress. The British Plastics Federation states that making bottles out of 100 per cent recycled plastic uses 75 per cent less energy than creating plastic bottles from initial plastic.
It has been a year since Scottish Labour and other Opposition parties called for the introduction of a deposit return scheme. Although progress has been slow, I understand the reasons for that and it is welcome that the Scottish Government is now working to develop a scheme that is right for the country. The UK Government is also supportive and has set up a working group. However, although UK-wide compatibility is pretty essential, I am determined—along with others here, I am sure—that Scotland should have the most ambitious scheme possible. It should not be a race to the bottom. We must pull the Tory Government with us, rather than the other way round. Issues for rural and small businesses must be addressed, and social injustice must not be a feature of our deposit return scheme.
There is also huge potential for remanufacturing in Scotland. Reaching a more circular economy rests heavily on public behaviour change, and the Parliament should do all that it can to foster and enable such change. With a bill on the circular economy coming up in this session, public interest is encouraging, and reimagining single-use products in an environmentally sound framework will require the right skills and education. In its briefing, Friends of the Earth is calling for “no fracking for packing”. It also calls on Ineos to plan its transition to a low-carbon model, with a focus on recycling.
That creative thinking is exemplified by MacRebur, a south of Scotland company that has innovated a new road surface that is made of waste plastic pellets and flakes. That remanufacturing has created a solution that does not use tarmac and is exactly the sort of enterprise that the Scottish Government should be nurturing; indeed, as the cabinet secretary has highlighted today, it is in many ways already doing that.
Incineration certainly merits analysis in the context of the circular economy. However, we will be abstaining on the Tory amendment today, because further exploration is needed on the merits of having
“a moratorium on any new incineration facilities” in terms of capacity, exemptions, public health, community concern and the readiness of alternatives. I am glad that the cabinet secretary has made the offer today of a debate on the issue. In fact, Monica Lennon has already requested a members’ business debate on the issue, but that is for another time.
We must clean up all the damage that has been done through plastic clogging our coastlines and threatening our marine life. I pay tribute again to Sorcha Cantwell, who is hero of the month for keep Scotland beautiful. She highlighted to me the concern about small harbours, because it is only large harbours at the moment that get money to support their fishing for litter campaign. I hope that the cabinet secretary will address that.
The rapidly growing plastic manufacturing industry has created an endemic problem of plastic pollution through the convenient use of single-use plastic. However, Scotland should rise to the challenge of that—as we are doing—individuals should make conscious choices and Parliament should lead by example.
I move amendment S5M-10307.4, to insert at end:
“; recognises the important role that education plays in raising public awareness and the value of Scottish Government support for volunteer clean-up programmes; notes the significance of the need for government action to help companies develop alternative materials to single-use plastics, and calls on the Scottish Government to support the remanufacturing of plastics as part of developing the circular economy.”
The great surge in public awareness around the health of our seas has been building for many years. Documentary films such as “A Plastic Ocean” and “Blue Planet II” have taken us to places of such spectacular beauty that we could have scarcely imagined that they even existed. However, they have also shown us how our blasé throwaway culture has blighted the farthest reaches of the deepest oceans. From the story of the polluted gut of an albatross chick to that of the plastic bottles now lining ocean trenches, the stories remind us that we are never separate from the natural world.
The Greens broadly welcome the Government motion and the Government’s emerging work on the plastic problem. However, I would pick up on the motion’s use of the word “litter”, because we need to reframe the plastic problem as plastic pollution, rather than as just litter. The plastic problem is not simply a matter of picking up waste and keeping things tidy. Seeing plastic debris simply as litter is a view that even the plastics industry itself supports. It is more accurate for us to describe that plastic as pollution, because plastic is a harmful substance that degrades into smaller microparticles over time, entering food chains and contaminating the world around us.
The Green amendment therefore focuses on one of the major sources of marine plastic pollution on which, so far, Governments have not taken any action: microfibres. They come mostly from our synthetic clothing and enter the water cycle from our washing machines, and pass into our rivers and seas unnoticed and unmonitored. They enter the food chain, being eaten initially by plankton, shellfish and small fish, and work their way up the food chain to humans. Microfibres have even been found in honey, beer and most of the world’s tap water supplies.
We have probably all bought at some point a fleece. Forward-thinking companies such as Patagonia Inc developed the use of fleece garments as a way to recycle plastic objects such as milk bottles in the 1980s. However, researchers have shown that a single polyester fleece jumper can lose almost 1 million microfibres in every wash. Many of the chemicals that are attracted and cling to plastic microfibres are long-lived, accumulative toxic organic pollutants such as PCBs. They concentrate in the food chain, are stored in body fat and are chemicals that are linked to cancer, birth defects and the disruption of development hormones. Many plastics, such as styrene, also release their own toxic chemicals as they break down. Microfibres effectively multiply the effect of toxic chemicals that are already a growing problem in our environment.
That all sounds pretty scary, but our pollution problem with microfibres can largely be solved by mechanical means. To give Patagonia some credit, that company has supported the development of mesh laundry bags that effectively trap microfibres. There are also filtration devices that can be applied to washing machine outflows and laundry balls that can attract microfibre loadings in the water. Just as we introduced catalytic converters on cars, so we can screen out microfibres from the water cycle with the correct technology and product standards alongside the development of fabrics that shed less fibre in the first place.
So far, it appears from answers to my written questions that the Scottish Government has not focused on the microfibre issue. I urge the cabinet secretary to progress work on the matter with stakeholders including industry, the European Union and other Governments. Perhaps the forthcoming national summit in Oban is a good opportunity for Scotland to take a lead and focus on this growing issue.
In my remaining time, I will focus on some guiding principles for how we should tackle plastic pollution. First, the waste hierarchy is essential in guiding any strategy, as the cabinet secretary mentioned. Prevention and reduction of waste needs to be the top priority, followed by reuse, then recycling and other recovery methods. Incineration is not an acceptable way to deal with hard-to-treat domestic plastic waste. If it is that difficult to recycle, we should not be producing it in the first place.
I accept the cabinet secretary’s approach that each type of product on the plastic pollution list, from drinking straws to cotton buds and ketchup sachets to nurdles, needs to be considered individually. The availability of alternative materials, the harm that the plastic item causes, its pattern of use and the value of materials that can be recovered from it will all be different from one product to the next.
We should also consider a hierarchy of use for plastics, placing products that are used in engineering or medical procedures at the top while giving far less importance to single-use plastics such as food packaging, which can and should be phased out.
We then have lots of tools in the box to tackle plastic pollution, from immediate bans to phase-out deadlines, levies, producer responsibility systems and deposit return. I look forward to hearing and reflecting on members’ thoughts on those during the debate.
Our planet is in the middle of the Holocene extinction: the sixth tumultuous extinction event that life on earth has had to endure. The ravages of climate change and habitat loss will only be intensified by the plastic pollution that poisons, chokes, sterilises and destroys. We need to end this wasteful age of plastic.
I move amendment S5M-10307.2, to insert at end:
“; remains shocked at levels of plastic found in wildlife across the globe; understands that, during every clothes wash, thousands of plastic microfibers escape from clothing that is made from synthetic materials, and that billions of these small fibres make their way into the oceans; acknowledges that plastic in the environment can be a harmful pollutant, and commits to collective action to reduce plastic pollution from microfibers as part of a comprehensive action plan.”
Fast- food restaurants in the EU are apparently using enough plastic straws every year to get to the moon and back 10 times. If members are shocked by that, they should bear in mind that it is about just one type of disposable plastic from one part of the hospitality industry in one area of the world. Plastic straws are one of the top 10 items of plastic litter that are found on our beaches, and the people who know that better than anybody else are the beach cleaners who are out on the sands, wrapped up against the bitter wind, gloves on, and picking up an average of 718 bits of rubbish every 100m.
There is public appetite for change—for real transformation. However, no change should put greater burdens on people with disabilities or people who need to use straws, and that is why the cabinet secretary’s announcement today of an adviser who will represent on the expert panel on plastics the views of those with disabilities is so important.
In the month since I launched my final straw campaign, calling for a ban on plastic straws, we have delivered change. I am absolutely delighted to say that 11 local authorities have pledged to eliminate plastic straws and an additional six are reviewing the use of plastic straws on their sites. I am still awaiting Highland Council’s response. As it is my local council and it has an extensive coastline, I hope that it, too, will back the campaign, as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Glasgow City Council and North Ayrshire Council have done.
On top of that, public bodies have really risen to the challenge. National Museums Scotland is one of the latest public bodies to support the final straw campaign. As of this month, unpackaged plastic straws are no longer available at any of the catering outlets throughout the national museums of Scotland. That comes after a series of public bodies have pledged to back the campaign and ban plastic straws from their sites. Each of them deserves our gratitude for playing their part in improving the environment by ditching plastics.
In the past month, CalMac Ferries, ScotRail, Scottish Water, Historic Environment Scotland, National Galleries Scotland, the courts, Scottish Natural Heritage, VisitScotland and our very own Parliament, which did this just last week, have all backed the final straw campaign to ditch the use of plastic straws.
Now that public bodies have risen to the occasion, we are switching the focus to private companies. It is not fair that full responsibility lies with consumers and customers to say no when their drink is served with several plastic straws, which are uncalled for, unwanted and unneeded. Full credit must go to coffee chains such as Costa and fabulous cafes such as Mimi’s Bakehouse for already having banned plastic straws. As long as there are alternatives for those who need straws, supermarkets should also ban plastic straws from their shelves and cafes.
This week, Asda announced that it was using 2.4 million straws per year in its cafes alone and that it was going to ditch plastic straws. I wrote to all major supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s, among others, calling on them to get plastic straws off their shelves and out of their cafes and to ensure that cheap, readily accessible alternatives are available instead. The first response that I received was from Waitrose and—this is hot off the press—at 3.20 pm today it pledged to stop selling packs of disposable plastic straws as of September 2018.
There is a sense of change in the air. That change is being driven by primary schools, the public and by public and private bodies that are voluntarily making a difference. They deserve the credit—credit where it is due.
I welcome the debate and I could not agree more with what has been said.
Given that I represent Ayr, I know from my local area just what a problem litter, particularly plastic litter, is on our magnificent golden Ayrshire beaches. It should not be necessary for our council to have to clear the beaches of Ayr, Prestwick and Troon, but it has to do so to make them clean and welcoming for our many summer visitors. It should not be necessary for Ayr Rotary, of which I am a member, to organise litter picking of the dunes and the beach before Easter every year, but it does, and we are grateful for the support of the cubs, scouts and wider local community who turn out to help. After all, Ayr beach is the busiest beach in Scotland and we are all proud of it.
We must welcome the House of Commons report, “Plastic bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide”. I note that, of the 13 billion plastic bottles produced in the UK every year, only 7.5 billion are recycled, with the remaining 5.5 billion being landfilled, littered or incinerated, which apparently results in 233,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Apparently, plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in our seas and oceans. That is why I support a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
I note that in 2001 only 1 per cent of plastic bottles were recycled and today 57 per cent are recycled, but 700,000 plastic bottles are littered every day in the UK, with all too many ending up in the sea.
If we are to encourage people further to recycle bottles, we must use easily recyclable plastic in the bottles in the first place, as happens in Norway, where 98 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled.
We must seek to incentivise producers of plastic bottles and other plastic materials to use easily recyclable, simple plastics. Quite apart from the effect on the environment in which we live, and of which we are part, the more I become aware of the degradation process of plastics and microfibres in our seas, the more concerned I am about the human health implications of eating fish and seafood regularly. Recent research from Heriot-Watt University, which found the level of microplastics to be the same in the Firth of Clyde, the Firth of Forth and the Scapa Flow, illustrates that concern. It is self-evident that microplastics and microfibres, which are indistinguishable from plankton, are increasingly being ingested by fish and molluscs and, therefore, by those of us who frequently eat seafood. I wonder what that does to the vital organs in our bodies, over time, and I wonder what research, if any, has been undertaken to find out the level of plastics and microfibres in human organs.
Single-use coffee cups should be replaced by more sustainable cups. Perhaps we should go back to the enamel-coated tin cups of yesteryear, which were always chipped, as I remember, but which were certainly unbreakable and light in weight. They were part of every piece bag 50 years ago.
Perhaps this is becoming a genuine back-to-the-future debate. I note the recommendation in the House of Commons report for the reinstallation of drinking water fountains, which have long since been removed from public places and school playgrounds.
We must not only consider such measures but carefully examine the possibility of levies on single-use plastics such as
“straws, stirrers, cutlery, cups and cup lids”,
Such actions would truly be win-win scenarios for our environment, both on land and at sea. The Government will have our support tonight for its motion.
For some time, we have been aware of the threat that plastic pollution poses to the environment, the ecosystem and human health. The term “single-use plastics”, which is in the title of this debate, might seem like innocuous jargon, but in reality it translates to an estimated 5.5 billion tonnes of discarded plastics, which pollute our lands, seas and oceans. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
This is a global challenge, which will require global solutions. I welcome the European Union’s commitment that all plastic packaging is to be easily recyclable or reusable by 2030. The Scottish Government is to be commended for matching that pledge with a ban on single-use plastics by that same year.
In Scotland we have taken positive steps, with the introduction of carrier bag charges, the announcement of a deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles, and the announced ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds. Ending the use of disposable plastic straws is the logical next step. In that context, I applaud the work of my colleague Kate Forbes and the work of the fantastic ocean defenders at Sunnyside primary school, whose #NaeStrawAtAw campaign is gathering pace.
Many others have worked hard to raise awareness of plastic pollution. In June 2017, I was pleased to meet members of Greenpeace outside the Parliament, including my constituent, Rachael, who outlined the findings of a recent scientific voyage to research ocean plastics around Scotland’s coastlines. She also gave me a small vial of plastic pollutants that had been recovered on the expedition. The vial now sits in my office and serves as a potent reminder of not only the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans but the collective impact that human society is having on the planet. All the environmental challenges that we face, from global warming and air pollution to the reported commencement of earth’s sixth mass extinction, have been precipitated by human activity. Plastic pollution is only the most recent issue to gain significant public attention.
In debates such as this, in which we consider the impact that we are having on the planet and the species with which we share it, I am sure that all members are, like me, struck with a tremendous sense of guilt at the damage that we have inflicted. However, the debates also provoke a sense of duty and responsibility to repair that damage.
That will not be easy. We must take action where necessary, including legislation where appropriate, but we need to do more. Ultimately, if we are to preserve our environment we will require a fundamental change in culture and a vision of human progress that is not predicated upon never-ending, unsustainable growth, fuelled by hyperconsumerism.
The price of growth cannot be the degrading of the environment that we leave behind. A key pillar of the Scottish Government’s economic strategy is inclusive growth. That concept must include consideration of those who have absolutely no voice—the generations who are yet to come. The issue of plastic pollution speaks to a far bigger debate, which is about not only how we treat our environment but our responsibilities to future generations. We cannot ignore or escape our fundamental duties as temporary custodians of this planet.
Edmund Burke perhaps put that best when, describing society as a partnership, he wrote:
“As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society”.
Our partnership of the living extends to all communities across the globe, and each of us has a duty to bequeath to future generations a planet that is capable of supporting the complex ecosystems of which we ourselves are a part.
The environmental ignorance of past generations who were bound to the earth and parochial in their views might be understood, if not forgiven. However, for the generation that is represented in this Parliament—a generation that has long known of the existence of great floating garbage heaps in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans—there is no excuse.
Kate Forbes pointed out that the number of plastic straws used in EU restaurants would stretch to the moon, but I note that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landings. Of the many enduring images from the Apollo space programme, that of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the lunar surface did not make the biggest impression on me; instead, it was the photo of the earth captured one year earlier by Bill Anders, as the Apollo 8 mission became the first manned spacecraft to complete a lunar orbit. That image, known to us today as “Earthrise”, has been described as
“the most influential environmental photo ever taken”.
In showing the earth as an isolated, fragile and lonely world in the vast and empty expanse of space, it informs a sense of collective global responsibility for our environment more fully than could ever be articulated by words alone.
Let us carry that image with us; let it inform every decision that we take in this place; and in this year of young people, let us recommit ourselves to passing on to the next generation a world where plastics pollution and exploitation of the environment are the issues of a bygone age.
Plastic presents a complex problem for our marine and terrestrial ecosystems, as we have heard; for our economy; and most important, for our environment, and it is clear that urgent action is needed. However, although this is a global issue, it is, as the cabinet secretary has said, very much to be welcomed that here in Scotland the tide seems to have begun to turn in our attitudes toward plastics, perhaps due in part to the BBC programme “Blue Planet II”.
It is for that reason that we support the measures that the Government has announced to begin to tackle this issue. For example, we support the banning of plastic cotton buds; indeed, the cabinet secretary came to Gullane in East Lothian to make the announcement alongside the Gullane beavers, who had written to her, demanding action following their own beach clean.
The seabird centre in North Berwick in my constituency might not have the reach of “Blue Planet”, but it has been very active in increasing awareness of the damage that is done to sea life and seabirds by plastic waste. Not least, East Lothian-based Fidra, which has already been mentioned, has provided a great example of how to raise awareness of plastics and their associated dangers and how to campaign for action. As the cabinet secretary said, Fidra led the great nurdle hunt, which is an important example of community action to tackle these issues head on.
Nurdles are small plastic pellets, billions of which are used each year to manufacture plastic products; however, far too many pollute our coast, ending up as part of the marine food chain, and scientists are becoming increasingly concerned by the potential toxicity of this background pollutant. They are estimated to be the third largest source of microplastic pollution. The nurdle hunt project encourages volunteers to attend their local beaches and map out the nurdles that they find. As Ms Cunningham mentioned, half a million were collected from a small beach at Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth, with many more left behind, and I would add that almost 100 nurdles were discovered in only five minutes during a beach clean at Yellowcraigs in my constituency. Some 400 such hunts have been organised, but although we certainly commend the volunteer groups for taking practical action to improve the environment for us all, the truth is that the burden cannot rest with them. Removing all those pellets from our beaches and seas, once they enter the ecosystems, is clearly impossible.
Although it is important to raise awareness and change public behaviour with regard to products that we all use, tackling the use of plastics in industry supply chains is key. The majority of nurdles end up on our beaches through industry spillage and mishandling, both of which are, of course, entirely avoidable with good practice. The leaks happen at all points in the supply chain. Initiatives such as operation clean sweep, an industry scheme that was devised to reduce the loss of these pellets through the implementation of systems and the sharing of best practice, are geared towards addressing the problems, but the scheme is voluntary, uptake remains worryingly low and no checks are in place.
Fidra suggests that a Government-backed certification scheme—backed by legislation, if necessary—that would allow companies throughout the supply chain to check for responsible handling could help to prevent that source of plastic pollution. That idea is more than worthy of consideration as part of the Government’s plastic and marine strategies. I know that the cabinet secretary is aware of the suggestion and I hope that she will respond positively in making her closing speech. Strong words must be matched by more action if we are to improve our coasts, our economy and our environment.
Last Friday, a primary 7 delegation from Glencairn primary school visited my constituency office. Katie, Kara, Thomas, Regan and their classmates told me of their concerns about potential budget cuts in North Lanarkshire. I was very impressed by their passion for their education.
The pupils went on to tell me about their school’s efforts to ban single-use plastic. The whole school is working to replace disposable drinking cups and plates with reusable ones. Each day, one class provides volunteers for washing-up duties. The school has banned plastic straws and is in negotiation with its supplier to replace milk cartons with attached straws with a bulk supply of straws that can be used with reusable drinking cups. I hope to visit the school to find out a bit more about the project—perhaps the cabinet secretary will consider doing the same.
I was struck by the pupils’ enterprise, endeavour, empathy and concern for our world. They are a credit to their teachers, their parents and to Motherwell town. They were inspired by the focus that has been brought to the issue by other young people across Scotland, which Kate Forbes and Iain Gray have spoken about, and by the powerful images in “Blue Planet II”.
What might be surprising is that work has been done to show that, shocking though the images from “Blue Planet II” are, there may be fewer bits of plastic in the world than might be expected. Modelling work on that was published in the
New Scientist in May 2017. The research has led scientists to believe that—perhaps—there are as yet undetected micro-organisms in the ocean that are degrading plastics. It might also be the case that the plastic sinks to the bottom of the ocean where we cannot detect it or see it, which could cause problems that we are unaware of down the line.
It is interesting to consider that mother nature herself might be helping us with the plastics problem. We should be thankful, once again, for the observation and curiosity of the scientific mind. In April 2017, the
New Scientist published the experience of Federica Bertocchini, from the institute of biomedicine and biotechnology in Cantabria. After she had picked honeycomb moth caterpillars from a beehive and placed them in a plastic bag for disposal, she noticed that her efforts were somewhat in vain, as the caterpillars were escaping from the plastic bag. She decided that, rather than getting on with her own research, she would investigate what was going on. The article states:
“To make sure that the caterpillars were actually digesting the plastic, the team ground some of them up and spread a thin layer of the paste on a polythene film.”
Within 14 hours, the caterpillars’ enzymes
“had broken down 13 per cent of the plastic. The team also found traces of ethylene glycol, a sign of polyethylene breakdown.”
At the time, Bertocchini said:
“If this is the case, I can picture a scenario in the future where we can isolate it, produce it on a large scale and use that to biodegrade plastics.”
Although the research is really exciting, Bertocchini was, at the time of publication last year, yet to secure funding to continue her work. We are all doing our bit, mother nature is doing her bit and the young people from Glencairn primary school are doing their bit, but on this issue we all must do our bit in order to reduce plastics usage.
In the short time that I have left, I would like to commend the work that Dell has done in sourcing material for its packaging from beach collections in Haiti instead of using virgin plastics. It is such efforts throughout the world that will make a difference.
I am not sure that I can match that, Presiding Officer.
As the issue of plastic pollution accelerates up the political agenda, reflecting a growing public awareness and appetite for action, today’s debate is timely.
As others have done, I pay tribute to the catalytic effect of the BBC’s “Blue Planet II”. The issue is not just a niche aspect of the wider debate on waste and the consequences of a throwaway culture. As we have heard, plastics have a huge impact on our environment. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s prediction that there could by 2050 be more plastic in our seas than fish is arresting. It is all the more arresting for me, as the MSP for Orkney, given that I am already reeling from the findings of the researchers at Heriot-Watt University on the prevalence of microplastics in Scapa Flow. Therefore, I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to ban single-use plastics by 2030, but I also welcome the cabinet secretary’s remarks about the need to take cognisance of the impact on certain groups or individuals. As somebody whose brother is a quadriplegic, I am well aware of the use that is made of plastic straws.
The Labour and Green amendments helpfully nudge us further in the right direction, but I am struggling a bit with the Tory amendment. It is true that we need to focus on the waste hierarchy, but at the moment Orkney waste is shipped to Shetland for incineration. Surely Orkney Islands Council should at least have the scope to assess the feasibility of a local waste-to-energy plant. Maurice Golden’s proposed moratorium would make that impossible.
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
That said, each party has rightly offered options on how we can deal with the challenges of tackling harmful use of plastics. The Liberal Democrats recently launched a save our seas campaign, as part of which we set out a range of proposals from deposit return schemes to global action to tackle the crisis of ocean pollution. As members would expect, our proposals are a mix of strategic and more targeted measures. The latter are important. Cumulatively, small steps can make a significant difference. Given the heightened public interest and appetite that exist, the scope for securing such behavioural changes is greater than ever.
As others have done, I commend Kate Forbes for her efforts in relation to plastic straws, just as I commend organisations including the Scottish Parliament, Asda and NorthLink Ferries. The Marine Conservation Society is leading the wider “Stop the plastic tide” initiative, which is aimed at reducing single-use plastics through levies and by pressing fast-food and coffee chains to up their game. That offers a rich seam of possibilities.
The question of how we reduce use of disposable cups was included in my amendment. A recent Liberal Democrat freedom of information request revealed that 1,200 disposable cups each day are bought by the Scottish Government for use in staff canteens and offices. That is almost half a million a year. I use that statistic only to illustrate an opportunity that ministers have to take a lead by changing what they do daily. We have seen the dramatic difference that a levy has made on public attitudes to single-use bags. Why not adopt a similar approach to disposable cups? That could increase take-up of reusable cups, cut waste and raise significant sums for charity. I accept that a panel has been set up to look at such issues, but we need a firm commitment from the cabinet secretary.
I welcome the comments that the cabinet secretary made about nurdles. She will be aware that Iain Gray is not alone in having a passion for the issue—my colleague Willie Rennie does, too. The Scottish Government needs to ensure that responsible practices are put in place across the plastics supply chain so that the companies that make pellets, those that transport them and those that manufacture new products from them are all covered. Iain Gray mentioned Fidra’s call for a certification scheme, which would, as much as anything else, improve transparency. I hope that the cabinet secretary will take that seriously.
There has never been a better opportunity—or, indeed, a greater need—to stem the tide of plastic pollution, so we must seize that opportunity.
I want to start with a quote from the 1967 film “The Graduate”. A young Ben Braddock was being given some career advice. He was told one word: “Plastics”. That was the business of the future—and so it proved to be. In the following decades, there was exponential growth in the plastics industry, to the point at which plastics are now everywhere including, unfortunately, in our seas and oceans and on our beaches.
There is no greater issue for us to consider in Parliament than the impact that our actions today have on the environment of tomorrow. We have all been shocked and moved by the powerful images of marine plastic pollution on our screens. The issue will impact on us, but it will have a far greater impact on the generations that will follow.
I have visited Sunnyside primary school, stood next to the #NaeStrawAtAw wa, and been extremely impressed by the school’s whole-school approach. Every year group has a different focus in its environmental work, which ensures that the focus is not lost when the pupils in that year group move on.
The young people at Sunnyside primary school have a very mature approach to the issue. They understand very well the need to work with rather than against businesses to ensure that the transition to a low-plastic environment is achieved with buy-in from all stakeholders. That is the fastest way to deliver real and sustainable progress. They have engaged with local retailers and with household names, including Müller, Tetra Pak and McDonald’s, and they have had success with CalMac Ferries among others. I was therefore delighted to put Sunnyside primary school in contact with Scotland’s manufacturer of reusable nappies: the locally owned business TotsBots, which is also based in my Glasgow Provan constituency. Engaging with TotsBots will show Sunnyside primary school pupils that their excellent environmental work provides opportunities as well as challenges for business and employment.
Given my prior experience and expertise in the manufacturing sector, I intend to focus in my brief comments on the business and industrial dimensions of the issue.
Although we can work hard to discourage the use of plastics and encourage recycling, the big wins will be to shut off the supply and provide alternatives. With that in mind, I encourage the expert panel to take a whole-life-cycle look at the plastics supply chain, to assess the impact on businesses and industries of the move to low-impact products and, most important, to identify the opportunities for businesses, working with academia through our innovation centres, to step in with innovative and environmentally friendly alternatives—products and processes that will not only help to save our planet, but will do so in a way that will generate economic and export opportunities. The Government should work with businesses to support that transition. In that regard, there is much to learn from the approach of the young people at Sunnyside primary school.
I am aware that the split between reserved and devolved powers in the area is not clear. The use of tax powers is constrained, and the use of powers to ban products outright will need to be argued case by case. Notwithstanding that, I encourage our Government to act where we can, to pressure the UK Government where we have to, and to continue to argue for increased powers where they are needed.
Let us be in no doubt about the significance of the issue: the future health of our planet and the health of future generations depend on it.
I will finish where I began. Fifty years after “The Graduate”, we have come full circle. A present-day Ben Braddock would no doubt be given very different careers advice. Plastics—or at least manufacture of those that pollute our environment and our oceans—is an industry that has had its day. The opportunities of the future will be in environmentally sustainable industries—in products that biodegrade and in renewable energy sources. Scotland’s potential in the renewables energy sector is well known. We should exploit the move away from disposable plastics to innovate in the implementation of sustainable alternatives. I trust that the cabinet secretary and other ministers across the Government will lead the way on the issue.
Shocking images that showed a seahorse holding a cotton bud, as featured on “Blue Planet II”, have alerted us all to the impact of single-use plastics on the environment. It is now clear to everyone that the 8 million tonnes of plastic that are discarded in the ocean each year pose a significant risk to biodiversity. Nationally and internationally, marine plastic pollution has caused a global biodiversity loss at a rate that is consistent with a sixth mass extinction. It has injured wildlife and harmed habitats.
Studies have shown that a staggering 48 per cent of fish that were sampled from Scotland’s coastal waters contained plastic in their digestive system. Scotland is an important region for seabirds: it incorporates 60 important bird and biodiversity areas, which must be protected from the effects of that devastation.
Scotland’s coastal landscape is also affected by plastic. The Scottish continental shelf contains the highest proportion of marine litter anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is therefore clear that action must be taken to protect our lands and seas from the impact of single-use plastics.
Legislative solutions and policy initiatives can, where necessary, play an important role in reducing use of single-use plastics. I welcome the action that has been taken by the Scottish Government in banning Q-Tips, and its work alongside the UK Government on banning the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads.
It is clear that in order to reach the target of zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042, any long-term policy solutions should aim to foster a change in culture, to transform attitudes and to motivate everyone to think more about the waste that they produce. As we heard in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee last week, there is the stick and carrot approach, but also the tambourine approach, in which we want people to enjoy doing the right thing.
Consumers are already encouraged to use reusable bags. Beverage containers, however, are among the most common items accumulating on shorelines, the sea surface and sea floor. In Britain, an estimated 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are used every year, which creates about 25,000 tonnes of waste. That is why I have asked the chief executive of the Scottish Parliament to look into banning single-use coffee cups, which are not recyclable, so that we can lead by example on the issue and show that making small behavioural changes can be straightforward.
Although policies that are undertaken to tackle the impact of single-use plastic must be thorough, it is important that they do not come at the expense of vulnerable groups. I echo the sentiments that the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform shared in a letter to the convener of the ECCLR Committee on the subject of the Scottish Government’s current approach to plastics and the deposit return scheme, and I welcome today’s announcement of the appointment of a disability representative. The cabinet secretary said
“It is vitally important that we do not disadvantage groups within society” in tackling issues around single-use plastic. I concur with her that the thinking behind any initiative should be
“grounded in real world understanding.”
I am encouraged that, when acting to minimise consumption of plastics, the Scottish Government will take into consideration the needs and views of people who are not able to visit a supermarket regularly and who rely on plastic-wrapped goods to keep their food fresher for longer, for example, or members of the public who need to purchase prepared fruit and vegetables that often must be transported and stored in plastic packaging. It is crucial that the Scottish Government incorporate that inclusive approach into the deposit return scheme. Support should be provided to groups who cannot take part in the scheme, in order to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by it.
I recognise both the importance of tackling the impact of single-use plastics and the grave consequences that inaction on the matter will bring to land and sea in Scotland and further afield. “Stemming the Plastic Tide” will allow us to better safeguard our environment, keep our sites of natural coastal beauty free from litter, and contribute to an overall improvement in the quality of the marine environment. I therefore support the general aims of the Scottish Government in encouraging behavioural change on the matter, while encouraging it to ensure that all members of society are included in any and all solutions to the problems that are posed by single-use plastics.
As a member of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Committee in the previous session of Parliament and now the convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I have found myself immersed in climate change and environmental matters for approaching seven years. A common theme through all the work that that has entailed has been the need to encourage and facilitate behavioural change.
We have often talked about the balance between the carrot and stick approaches. A week or so ago, a Government official appearing before the committee introduced a third element: the tambourine—and no, I was not entirely sure what he meant either. It was explained as meaning wishing, wanting or feeling compelled to do something. To be fair, I believe that, as a society, we are moving into that territory. Those of us who have had a hand in shaping policy in the area have assumed that there is a need to prompt behavioural change and—absolutely—to facilitate it.
I think that we are now in a completely new phase in the battle to preserve our planet, in which the politicians are at least to some extent following a direction of travel that is being set by a willing public. In changing attitudes towards the need to do our bit for the environment, we have come a very long way in a relatively short space of time, and I predict that behavioural change is about to take a giant leap forward from this point, driven by a public with an appetite who are banging their tambourine, if you like.
The “Blue Planet II” series has played a huge part in raising the issue of marine littering, but a movement was already afoot before the series. Right at the heart of that movement was concern over certain plastics, of which the stems of cotton buds and plastic straws are the two most obvious examples.
I welcomed the recent Government announcement on cotton buds. Last year, I was at Lunan Bay, in my constituency, taking part in a beach clean that was organised by Surfers Against Sewage. It was gobsmacking to see the range of plastics that was found on the beach. The number of cotton buds was a particular take-home message for me. It was a behaviour-changing message as, since that day, I have ceased chucking used cotton buds down the toilet.
Assuredly, we are, one way or another, moving towards addressing the issue of disposable straws long before the total ban on throw-away plastics comes into force, in 2030. Although I commend the work that has been done by my colleague Kate Forbes in raising awareness of the need for a ban, we should recognise, as she did, that schoolchildren the length and breadth of Scotland have been driving the campaign.
Another plastic-related blight on the environment is cigarette butts. Like many MSPs, I visit a number of primary schools in my constituency. The question-and-answer sessions are invariably wide-ranging and, from those sessions, it is clear that children have a genuine fascination with issues such as climate change and the environment. I always give them an example of the harmful impacts of littering that inevitably provokes a surprised response. The example is that of the cellulose acetate filters in cigarettes, which take up to 12 years to degrade. Across that timeline, those fag butts leak toxins that contaminate water and harm marine and bird life.
I like the proposal from ASH Scotland that we deploy the polluter-pays principle and force tobacco companies to meet the cost of removing cigarette butts. However, I guess that we might be racing against time given that the UK Government’s intention is not to transpose that proposal into UK law post-Brexit. Individually, cigarette butts might not give the appearance of causing a significant detrimental environmental impact, but we are told that, globally, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts make their way into the environment annually. That simply cannot continue. We need global action to tackle the issue.
I welcome the opportunity that the debate has provided to explore plastic pollution of the environment but, as I said at the outset of my speech, it is not a case of politicians setting the agenda. The public are ahead of us in wanting the issues to be addressed.
I am glad to speak in today’s debate, as it is on a subject that I feel passionately about. When it comes to plastic washing up on our coastline, the area that I represent must be one of the hardest-hit areas in Scotland. Whether it is on the sides of the Firth of Clyde, up in the Gare Loch or in Loch Long, it feels as though tonne upon tonne of plastic is being deposited on Scotland’s west coast.
The most vivid example of that in my region—and probably in Scotland—is Arrochar. Due to its position at the top of Loch Long, it is a litter sink for the sea. Plastics and other rubbish run with the current up to Arrochar and, when the tide goes out, that rubbish is dumped on the shore. Arrochar’s case is so special that it was recently included in the documentary “A Plastic Tide”.
Local people are fighting back against the plastic tide alongside brilliant organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society, which, this year, is celebrating the 25th year of the operation of its beach watch project. Beach watch is a UK-wide project that uses volunteers to undertake a national beach-cleaning and litter-surveying programme. It is helping people all around the UK to care for their coastline and to collect useful scientific data. This year, it will culminate in the Great British beach clean, which will run from 14-17 September. I have lodged a motion for a members’ business debate on the campaign, for which I look forward to cross-party support.
Last year, when a beach clean took place in my West Scotland region, six beach-clean events took place at Lunderston Bay, Irvine, Portencross beach, Blairvadach beach and Rhu spit, in Gare Loch, and on the Arrochar shores. They involved 117 volunteers who, between them, picked up 8,329 pieces of litter, 4,845 of which were made of plastic. That was 58 per cent of the total number of pieces of litter that were collected.
Catherine Gemmell and Calum Duncan from the Marine Conservation Society are in the public gallery for today’s debate. They will be entirely responsible for organising the Great British beach clean in Scotland, and I whole-heartedly welcome them. It is good to see them here, smiling away. I challenge my fellow MSPs to help to organise and attend one of the Great British cleans in September this year. I look forward to taking their names after the debate.
I feel very strongly about deposit return schemes. My family’s business was in the drinks manufacturing industry, and it had a deposit return scheme for glass rather than plastic bottles. It was a success and had a lot of buy-in from our customers and distributors in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I believe that such a scheme for plastic bottles would end up with the same buy-in as we had for the scheme for glass bottles.
It is a shame that the DRS was abandoned some time ago, with the move to plastic bottles, but some countries kept their DRS in place and subsequently reaped the rewards. The experience of Norway, which kept its DRS in place after the move to plastic bottles, shows what is possible. A charge of 1 Norwegian krone—the equivalent of about 10p in the UK—is applied to each standard 500mg bottle and a 2.5 krone deposit—25p—to larger bottles. Those are small amounts, but Norway’s DRS is claimed to be the most effective in the world, with 96 per cent of plastic bottles returned for recycling.
The benefits for the oceans and in general are enormous, which is demonstrated by the fact that, of all the plastic bottles that are washed up on Norway’s shores, six out of seven are foreign. I could not find the exact figures for the UK and Scotland, but the vast majority of what washes up on our shores comes from the UK and Scotland. I was lucky enough to meet Kjell-Olav Maldum last year when he visited the Parliament. He is the chief operating executive and managing director of Infinitum, the Norwegian corporation that co-ordinates their national deposit return scheme. That meeting convinced me further that we can replicate Norway’s success here in Scotland. However, it is vital that we have a UK-wide scheme to get the maximum benefit from the DRS. The UK Government has already announced that it is willing to work with the UK’s devolved Administrations to ensure that we have a UK-wide approach, where possible, for the scheme.
Before it is too late, we must do whatever we can to stem the plastic tide that is choking our oceans. With the work of organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society and innovative schemes such as the DRS, we can do just that.
I take up Maurice Corry’s challenge and say that I expect, once again, to join the staff from the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay at their local beach clean, as I have done for many years. I pay tribute to the groups in our constituencies and others throughout Scotland who clean our beaches and have supported this kind of debate.
The debate, which is dedicated to single-use plastics, is taking place 19 years into devolution and is a sign of the times. It illustrates the momentum of public support for addressing the issue that there has been in recent years. Another sign of changed times is Maurice Corry’s reference to the fact that any deposit return scheme should be a UK-wide one. The UK Government is now contemplating such a scheme south of the border, which is also a change of policy by the Conservatives south of the border. For many years, when I was in the Government, I went to extreme lengths in trying to persuade my UK counterparts to get behind a UK-wide deposit return scheme. I hope that we will now reach that position very soon.
The introduction of the 5p charge for single-use carrier bags and the research that has been conducted into the potential for a deposit return scheme in Scotland are policies that, just two or three years ago, were put in the “too radical” tray, whereas they are now taken for granted as absolutely necessary and are in the “urgent” tray. Things have moved apace in the past few years, a lot of which is down to modern technology, science and research. That modern technology includes social media, and we have many campaigns in Scotland, Europe and globally asking for the likes of plastics to be tackled. The word spreads quickly and, of course, “Blue Planet II” on our television screens played a huge role in raising public awareness of the impact of plastics and humans on our natural environment.
In 2002, WWF said that, if people around the world were to consume the world’s natural resources at the same rate as UK and US citizens, we would need an extra two planets to survive. Thankfully, more people are now aware of the impact that they are having on our natural resources and natural environment. I pay tribute to the organisations, such as the Marine Conservative Society, Greenpeace and many others, that have played a role in raising awareness of those issues in recent years. I was privileged to be at the launch event for the Greenpeace ship Beluga II, which went around Scotland’s coasts for two months last year to highlight the impact of plastics on our oceans.
These issues are often seen as arising in other parts of the world, such as in the Arctic, in the Pacific, in the Atlantic or wherever, but not necessarily within the Scottish six-mile and 12-mile limits. However, the Beluga II found that single-use plastic bottles have been washed up on the beaches of uninhabited islands in Scottish waters. People now realise that, when we throw away plastic bottles or other items, they are being washed up on beaches far away and they are impacting on the natural environment.
Governments legislate against the predation of precious and rare marine species using the hook, harpoon or net, or through inappropriate economic development, but we must recognise that we are killing or injuring those same marine species by dumping plastics and other alien materials into our oceans. We must recognise that we just cannot do that. Just as we outlaw other things, we must outlaw anything that harms the natural environment, or at least move towards reducing the impact in the short term. I believe that, at some point in the future, these activities will be illegal, when society has moved on that bit further.
It is good to see lots of private sector businesses getting behind tackling plastic packaging, as was discussed by the World Economic Forum a couple of weeks ago. Multinational companies are recognising that consumers around the world want them to cut down on their plastic packaging to do their bit to save the planet and to stop plastics damaging marine wildlife and our fantastic landscapes.
I commend the cabinet secretary for picking up the cudgels and taking the issue forward, and I ask her please to regulate, regulate and regulate. It is the best way forward.
David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II” series has been mentioned by just about every member so far; in time, it might prove to be one of the most significant catalysts for behavioural change among the ordinary public, possibly even eclipsing the awareness-raising that is done by environmental organisations.
The “Blue Planet II” series took more than four years and 125 expeditions across 39 countries to film and, as we have heard, it has touched the lives of many people who had previously not given the slightest consideration to our oceans. After he saw the series, six-year-old Harrison Forsyth wrote to ask Aldi to stop using plastic bags. That was but one of the many reactions seen in people who now want to protect our oceans.
Finlay Carson talked about the image of the sea horse with the cotton bud, but it was the film of the mother whale carrying her dead calf, which had died from her polluted milk, that upset me and has stayed with me.
The vibrant colours and the breathtaking life forms drew us into a series with sights that we could not have imagined. The episode called “The Deep” offered us a glimpse into an environment that we seem to know less about than we do about the surface of Mars. Once we were drawn into the series and captivated by it, the later episodes hit us with the disturbing facts that these beautiful creatures are fighting for their survival because of climate change and worse: the amount of plastic that is flowing into the sea and poisoning our marine life.
David Attenborough said:
“Unless the flow of plastics ... into the ocean is reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come.”
The equivalent of a rubbish truck of plastic is being dumped into the world’s oceans every minute to be ingested by seabirds, fish and other organisms.
I am one of the many millions of people who have been shocked into action by the “Blue Planet II” series. I have to be honest and say that, but for “Blue Planet II”, this debate might have passed me by. It will pass me by no longer. The subject should be centre stage in this parliamentary session and I give credit to Roseanna Cunningham for her command of the brief and the work that she has done, and to Claudia Beamish, who has had a lifetime of involvement.
I have turned my life around and I am now the chief recycler in my household. That is all down to being shocked by the “Blue Planet II” series and what I have heard.
The United Nations oceans chief, Lisa Svensson, said last year:
“This is a planetary crisis . . . We are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.”
It seems that she is right.
Others have talked about what the effects might be on humans who eat fish that contain plastics. The answer is still largely unknown, but we can hazard a guess. The public should at least be aware that a recent survey by the University of Plymouth found plastic in a third of fish that are caught in UK waters, including haddock. Scientists in Belgium recently calculated that people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year.
We have heard all about everyday products that we think we cannot live without, but we might just have to live without some of them if we want to change. However, it will take the collective efforts of behavioural change, education, collaboration, regulation and legislation to reverse the damage that has been done to our world. Politicians have a duty to set an example. If people understand why they are being asked to change their behaviour, and if they know that they are doing it for the greater good, I am sure that we can do great things.
Nothing better illustrates our throwaway lifestyle than plastic, the production, use and disposal of which is a serious environmental and health problem. Globally, we use 160,000 plastic bags every second and components of that man-made material can take centuries to degrade.
Items that are designed to last might be used only once before being thrown away. Vast quantities of plastic debris and particles pollute our planet, with millions of tonnes dumped in our seas each year.
Sunlight gradually degrades plastic into tiny microplastics. Widely dispersed in water, they attract other toxins, and thus pass up the food chain to eventually contaminate entire ecosystems. Sea creatures, from the most microscopic, swallow toxic chemicals from plastic decomposition. People eat fish that have eaten other marine organisms, which in turn had eaten toxin-saturated plastics. In essence, we are eating our own plastic waste.
Plastic pollution inspired the environmental scientist Lucy Gilliam and the skipper Emily Penn to launch eXXpedition, a unique series of all-female sailing voyages that strove to make the unseen seen, from the toxins in our bodies to the plastics in our seas. Last summer, the eXXpedition crew docked in Arran, in my constituency, during their month-long voyage around Britain. They also called at Leith and, on 25 August 2017, I hosted an event in Holyrood that was attended by 70 folk. That was before “Blue Planet II” raised the consciousness of millions about the impact of plastics on our seas.
The eXXpedition examined the plastics, chemicals, endocrine disruptors and carcinogens in our marine environment and linked them to the ecosystem and products that we consume. At the same time, it considered the long-term health impacts on future generations. Everyone alive today carries within their body at least 700 contaminants, and 29 of the 35 most toxic chemicals in plastics are present in human tissue.
Having organised and participated in numerous litter picks and beach cleans, I see how much plastic washes up on our shores. Single-use plastics such as bottles, straws, spoons and cups contribute most to the problem. Although a plastic-free society is unlikely, switching to reusable alternatives allows us to be part of the solution rather than part of the pollution.
Packaging should be dramatically reduced, and if the people who work at this Parliament took a proper lunch break, they would not use any of the polystyrene packs that they take their lunch back to their offices in. We can also reduce single-use plastic personal care and hygiene products, such as liquid soap, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, which often come in wee plastic bottles.
It takes a litre of fossil fuel and 22 litres of water to produce a 1-litre plastic bottle, emitting 55 grams of greenhouse gases in the process. In the United States alone, 17 million barrels of oil are used annually to produce plastic water bottles.
Microbeads are solid plastic particles of less than 1mm. A ban on both the manufacture and sale of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products comes into effect this year. Having raised this issue numerous times, I am particularly pleased by that ban.
Around half of plastic bottles are currently recycled, which represents an important step towards a society in which resources are valued and nothing is wasted. A plastic bottle deposit scheme would surely help further.
Although the Parliament is resolutely opposed to disposable plastic, in life, solutions are not always simple. The plastic bag charge has been remarkably successful in cutting the colossal number of bags that are sent to landfill, but a study in 2005 by the Liberal-Labour Scottish Executive stated that
“a paper bag has a more adverse impact than a plastic bag for most of the environmental issues considered”.
In 2011 the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also concluded that a cotton shopping bag needs to be used 173 times before it is responsible for fewer carbon emissions than a plastic bag, because cotton is a very water-intensive crop that requires lots of fertiliser and oil to fuel the machinery that is required for cultivation, and the run-off is very damaging.
Polylactic acid or PLA, a biodegradable and bioactive thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources such as sugarcane, corn starch, cassava roots or woodchips, is a possible alternative, but it requires vast areas of land. Europe uses 60,000 tonnes of plastic a year. Switching to PLA would utilise around 100,000 square kilometres of arable land, which is nearly a tenth of all land under cultivation across Europe. Biodegradable plastic decomposes straight to methane, a greenhouse gas with 20 times the potency of CO2
. Ultimately, we must more effectively husband earth’s precious natural resources, reusing and recycling them, as the cabinet secretary said in her opening statement.
A totally single-use-plastic-free Scotland is a long-term goal that will take time to achieve. However, plastic pollution is an entirely man-made problem and the solutions, too, must be of our own conception.
We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. The cabinet secretary started off with a long list of plastic pollution, from wet wipes to bottle caps and cotton buds; Claudia Beamish added crisp bags; Kate Forbes added enough straws to get us to the moon and back, but thankfully not via Waitrose—I congratulate her; Liam McArthur added half a million coffee cups in Scottish Government canteens; Graham Dey added some fag butts; and John Scott was concerned about the microfibres that possibly lurk in his body.
There have also been a number of speeches about the importance of community action, with members highlighting the excellent work that has taken place in their constituencies for many years. Sunnyside primary school has been mentioned, as has the excellent work in Ullapool on the banning of plastic straws, and we heard about the beach cleans at Lunan bay, Arrochar and Spey bay. Such activity is hugely important, not in terms of removing huge volumes of plastic pollution from the coast and seas, but in terms of helping us to understand the scale of the problem of plastic pollution and driving the behaviour change and education that we need. In that regard, I commend the Marine Conversation Society, Surfers Against Sewage and the schools and communities across Scotland that have been doing that work.
In my constituency, I have taken part in beach cleans at Kinghorn bay. The community there really understands and cares about their local environment. That comes down to what Tom Arthur was saying about the partnership that is needed between generations. That is evident in the communities that I am talking about. Sadly, one individual, Mary, is no longer with us, but she did fantastic work 10 years ago on the campaign against ship-to-ship oil transfers. We can see that baton being passed from one generation to another. The work of people in these communities is vital to helping us understand the impact of plastic pollution.
Iain Gray mentioned nurdles. I congratulate the charity Fidra on its excellent work in that area. Certainly, the call for a certification scheme to address where in the supply chain the nurdles are getting lost is hugely important.
That leads me to another issue around supply chains, which we perhaps have not addressed in this afternoon’s debate: where our low-grade plastic waste recycling ends up. Early in the new year, we got news that China intends to ban the low-grade plastic imports that we have in effect been dumping there to be reprocessed. There have been some investigations into traceability issues in the plastics supply chain. Plastic waste is meant to be certified and exported through something called a packaging export recovery note, but investigations have found that some of that waste has ended up in Asia being stockpiled, landfilled or even burned.
In order to maintain public confidence in recycling, it is important that we ensure that that plastic waste is traceable and auditable. If it is intended to be recycled, it must be recycled. I ask the cabinet secretary to comment in her closing speech on what we can do at the Scottish Government level to ensure that we have that traceability. As soon as news of the Chinese plastic ban came out, I asked the Scottish Government what the implications will be for us. The answer that I got back was that we do not know yet. However, I would like to know when the Government will know, because local authorities around Scotland have spent millions of pounds reconfiguring their waste collection systems, often with the aim of increasing the collection of mixed lower-grade plastic, and it would be useful to know what the future holds for that.
I congratulate the Government on making substantial progress on deposit return. Richard Lochhead and Maurice Corry mentioned deposit-return schemes and the prospect of there being a UK-wide one. I noted the cabinet secretary’s comments about such schemes moving beyond plastic and potentially on to cans and glass bottles. I ask her to say a little bit more about that in her closing remarks. It will a very exciting initiative if we can take the deposit-return concept and start to apply it to bottles that we used to take for granted as being able to be reused.
I also take on board the points that a number of members made about the importance of equalities-proofing this push. I go back to my initial point about the importance of a plastic hierarchy and recognising that we do need to use plastics—possibly even single-use ones—in some cases, but that the kind of regular, wasteful use that we as a society are involved in at the moment is clearly inappropriate.
In closing, I will briefly mention incineration. I say to Maurice Golden that while this is perhaps not the best debate in which to raise the subject, I share his concerns. We are seeing speculative applications for waste incinerators appearing across Scotland, including in Westfield in Fife, which is in my region. They are slipping through the planning system. I raised the question with the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, and we had a statement on energy in December. I was promised a meeting with Mr Wheelhouse and Roseanna Cunningham, but that has not happened yet. We need to get a grip on the issue, particularly given that we have the national planning framework coming this year.
In conclusion, I wish the Government well, as I do the summit that will take place in Oban later this year. I hope that it will address the problem of microfibres that was raised in the Scottish Green Party’s amendment.
As the cabinet secretary and many others have said in this debate, following the final episode of the recent documentary series “Blue Planet II”, the spotlight has been placed on the scale of destruction being caused by the excessive use of plastics right across the world. All of us who watched the programme could not help but be shocked by scenes showing the tragic impact that such waste is having on marine life. Although the problems that are caused by plastic pollution have been known about for some time, the public mood and a desire to change things for the better mean that there is now an energy across all age groups and all sectors of society that will help to drive the change that we need—a point that was well made by Graeme Dey, Claudia Beamish, Kenneth Gibson and others.
Today in this Parliament there have been many good speeches highlighting what is being done across Scotland—and what needs to be done. As Tom Arthur and other contributors mentioned, the report prepared by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for the recent World Economic Forum in Davos stated—incredibly—that, by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish. It is just incredible that the human race would do that. As Pope Francis said:
“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us”?
He went on to say:
“May the relationship between man and nature not be driven by greed, to manipulate and exploit, but may the divine harmony between beings and creation be conserved in the logic of respect and care”.
Friends of the Earth Scotland strikes a similar note when it says:
“The increase in single use plastics has coincided with the development of a damaging mind-set of take-make-dispose and a culture of hyper-consumerism.”
As others have said today, plastic has been around for a long time, but it now dominates our lives in clothing, cooking, engineering and product design.
The rate at which we are producing plastic has accelerated. A report in
Science magazine in July 2017 estimated that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced to date and that some 80 per cent—6.3 billion tonnes—of that is now waste.
Speaker after speaker in this debate has made the point that we cannot continue like this; we cannot simply ignore the issue and we all have to take responsibility for doing something about it. However, it is clear that a problem of such a scale and complexity will not lend itself to a quick fix. We will need global co-operation and, indeed, global action to achieve the lasting change that we desire, but action can also be taken much closer to home by individuals, communities, local authorities and Governments. I am therefore pleased that the Scottish Government’s motion recognises the need to take action on a number of fronts and that Labour’s amendment recognises that public involvement, volunteer action and a rethink of how we as a country use resources all have a part to play.
Individual behaviours will play a big part in reducing the impact of single-use plastics. There are currently around 480 billion plastic bottles sold across the globe every year, which is 20,000 per second. Anything that we can do to reduce that figure will make a difference. Simple but effective action such as the introduction of the refill scheme, whereby shops and offices can permit the public to come in to refill their water bottles, will have an effect. I know that some MSPs have signed up to that scheme already. However, we also need to find ways to provide drinking water in public areas, following the example set by London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and we could take a step back to the kind of drinking fountains that used to be found in many towns, villages and parks. Indeed, a report from Seas at Risk points out that Copenhagen in Demark has recently installed 60 drinking fountains across the city, which is just one of many examples that the report gives of local leadership in taking action.
Kate Forbes highlighted that Ullapool was the first village in the UK to ban plastic straws, which followed a campaign driven by local schoolchildren. In my home county of Fife, the chief executive of the council told me this morning that Fife is in the process of working on a plan to ban plastic straws. The Scottish Government’s charge for plastic bags is working a treat. I also welcome the great work done by local communities such as Kinghorn, as mentioned by Mark Ruskell, and Carnock, and by voluntary organisations in organising clean-ups. We must recognise the challenges that local authorities face as they seek to manage their waste as well.
The public can, to a degree, choose whether to use items such as plastic bottles, plastic straws, wet wipes, cotton buds and plastic cutlery; and, with the right support, we can choose to use alternatives. However, as individuals, we have less choice over the materials used in packaging everyday consumer goods such as supermarket fruit and vegetables, in disposable nappies and—yes—even in tea bags. The plastic contained in those things can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
I am delighted to be able to close this debate for the Scottish Conservatives and I note that there have been several constructive suggestions by members from across the chamber; it is indeed refreshing to be able to unite as a Parliament on such a serious issue. In addition, I pay tribute to my colleague in the Highlands and Islands, Kate Forbes, for her sterling work in leading the fight to eliminate plastic straws, a campaign that we whole-heartedly support. I know that she is an influential woman with friends in high places, but as I read the
Sunday Mail front page this week announcing that even Her Majesty the Queen has heeded her call and banned plastic straws from her palaces and residences across the country, I was in awe of Kate Forbes and her powers of persuasion. Indeed, I would like to thank all the community groups, schools, charities and businesses across Scotland that have responded so positively to the campaign and wider calls to eliminate the use of plastics where possible. That is a positive starting point for the bigger debate.
It is encouraging that the UK Government has delivered a clear 25-year plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. The plan includes an ambition to have zero avoidable waste by 2050, meeting all existing waste targets including those on landfill, reuse and recycling and seeking to eliminate waste crime and illegal waste sites over the lifetime of the plan. I am also encouraged by the UK Government’s action to see what overseas projects it can invest some of our £13 billion overseas budget into in order to prevent the devastation of marine life. WWF Scotland has argued specifically for that, and I am glad that steps are being taken in that direction.
I have noted the Scottish Government’s backing for the 2030 single-use plastics plan. We are yet to see a clear strategy on how that will be delivered, but I wait in good faith for that. One observation that I offer is that having excellent ad hoc campaigns such as #NaeStrawAtAw and have you got the bottle? is one thing, but there must also be a degree of co-ordination so that a holistic and all-encompassing approach is undertaken. To be fair to the cabinet secretary, I note that she referenced co-ordination in her opening remarks.
That brings me to our amendment and what might be termed the Mauricetorium. [
.] We on the Conservative benches support the Government’s motion, but, as my colleagues have noted, we want it to go further. At the end of the day, although dealing with plastic pollution is a step in the right direction, we must be wary of treating it as the be-all and end-all to reducing waste and promoting a more circular economy. As our amendment states, we want Parliament to support a moratorium on any new incineration facilities.
I am sorry. I do not have time, I am afraid.
As Maurice Golden said, there has been a twelvefold increase in incineration. It is appropriate to put a marker down about incineration and reduce the need to burn what has been used. I welcome the sympathy that was expressed by Mark Ruskell, among others, for the view that incineration of plastics is unacceptable.
That is why the promotion and uptake of recycling is important, it is why the need to innovate is vital, and it is why we need to identify new ways in which plastic can be reused. Ivan McKee spoke powerfully about alternatives that could be explored. Only a few weeks ago, many members attended an event here in Parliament with the Dumfriesshire-based firm MacRebur, which takes waste plastic, and in particular non-reusable plastics, and turns them into new roads.
As many members throughout the chamber have noted, the introduction of a deposit return scheme is integral to this debate. My colleague Maurice Golden did a lot of work on that as convener of a sub-group of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee last year, and Maurice Corry has also been a vocal campaigner. Given the overarching nature of this afternoon’s debate and the time that is available to me, I do not intend to go into the arguments around a DRS, but it is important to note how it will impact on our ability to collect, recycle and reuse plastics.
In addition, we must face up to the reality that recycling uptake is lagging, with the rate of recycling increasing by only 1 per cent from 2015 to 2016 and less than half of household waste being recycled. If current trends continue, we will not meet the 70 per cent recycling target by 2025, which would be extremely disappointing.
The fact that non-degradable plastic accounts for 73 per cent of litter in any aquatic environment and the fact that over 170 marine species have been recorded as ingesting human-made polymers, which can cause life-threatening complications such as gut perforation and reduced food intake, affecting cells and tissues, are simply unacceptable.
In addition, it is not just a problem for the many species that roam our lands, skies and waters; it is a problem for the economy, too, as others have said. Marine plastics cost the Scottish fishing industry between £10.3 million and £11.5 million a year, with the average fishing vessel spending between £15,000 and £17,000 every year in repairs and direct loss of earnings. As an MSP for the Highlands and Islands, that is of particular concern to me. According to Zero Waste Scotland, councils needlessly lose around £54 million a year in landfill tax due to the fact that 60 per cent of items in landfill could have been recycled.
In order to tackle the many challenges that our environment faces, we must all work together to ensure that the many noble words shared here today are turned into action. Tackling single-use and unnecessary plastics is just one part of the much greater objective to ensure that our environment is protected and that future generations can benefit from a cleaner and greener planet.
I welcome those who are not the usual suspects to this environment portfolio debate. It is good to see such wider interest, which obviously reflects the wider concern in society. No doubt, that is because our natural environment is being threatened by casual attitudes towards resources, so we must learn to rethink our relationship with plastics. That is challenging and it is not always straightforward.
I am grateful to Fiona Robertson from Aberdeen, who entered the Twitter debate about cauliflower steaks with a gentle reminder that not everyone finds peeling, chopping or slicing easy, or even possible. Her intervention is directly responsible for the decision to have a disability adviser on this issue.
We have to move from being a throwaway society to being a society that takes much greater responsibility for how we use, dispose of and recycle materials, to derive the greatest value from the planet’s finite resources. We can encourage businesses to innovate through the design of their products and services in order to support their customers to make reuse an easy choice, or help them to recycle more.
We can lead by example. Liam McArthur challenged the Scottish Government itself, quite rightly. I assure him that the permanent secretary is very much on the case and that a timeline of action is currently being worked through.
We can set an example as individuals, too. I commend the refill app mentioned by Alex Rowley. Colleagues can register their constituency offices as water refill stations and encourage people to use them—it is free and easy to do. For obvious reasons, that means that we support the move by Network Rail to introduce public water refill points, and we are exploring with Scottish Water options for the introduction of public water refill points in private and public buildings and spaces. A great deal of work is being done out there; members need to be confident that that is happening.
It makes good business sense to listen to what our customers want. I hear loud and clear the message that people want a clean environment. Over the years in parliamentary debates, we have agreed on the need for change, so let us now agree evidence-based actions to tackle the problem.
I cannot possibly summarise all the contributions. Suffice it to say that I guess that I was not the only one scrutinising their own plastic use—my initial view turned out to be rather prescient.
I am happy to accept the Labour and Green amendments. Claudia Beamish lodged an amendment that focuses on a number of issues and includes well-made points about education, particularly in relation to educating the next generation of designers—which of course is probably a whole other debate in itself—and action to help companies develop alternatives to single-use plastics. Those are important elements of the debate.
The Green amendment focused very much on “microfibers”. I am a little distressed by the somewhat Americanised spelling in the amendment, but I will agree to the amendment in spite of it. We recognise that microfibres are a major problem and we monitor their presence in the water column and subtidal marine sediments. We are also conducting research into plastics as a vector for toxic contaminants in the ecosystem. Some work is already being done on that. We all agree that it is a major challenge, because that material exists where we do not realise that it exists, which is one of the huge issues.
I cannot accept the Conservative amendment. First, of the total waste in Scotland only about 1 per cent is incinerated. It is a bit unhelpful of the Conservatives to have tried to shoehorn a debate about incineration into this debate about marine plastics. It is not clear whether incinerators that require upgrading to make them more energy efficient and less polluting would be captured by a moratorium such as the one that the Conservatives suggest. It is also unclear what effect such a decision might have on planning applications that are already going through the appropriate local process. Would we be running the risk of multiple judicial reviews?
I gently say to Maurice Golden and his colleagues that I am advised by my friend Maureen Watt, who is sitting on my right, that Conservative councillors in Aberdeen are pushing hard to build an energy-from-waste plant. There perhaps needs to be a conversation in the Conservative Party before Conservative members lodge such amendments.
Today’s debate is about celebrating everything that communities are doing to address marine plastics, as well as setting out our stalls on what else the Government and Parliament collectively might take on board in relation to the issue. I have heard a lot of new ideas this afternoon, and every idea will be treated seriously. I will consider further legislation where there is compelling evidence that legislating is the right thing to do to achieve change. My mind is open to further ideas, and I think that Mark Ruskell’s hierarchy of priorities is helpful.
We will continue to work in partnership with business, local government, charities and others to support the outcomes that we seek. The summit that I intend to hold later this year will bring together wide interests to explore what else can be done across boundaries to achieve the change that we need and create a better environment for current and future generations.
I have signalled our willingness to work with other parts of the UK on deposit return. We want to work with partners world wide to develop and implement best practice measures to address marine litter and responsible use of plastics. Maurice Corry called on us to work with the UK Government. Both sides need to be engaged in that regard. My officials have not yet been able to get confirmation of what the UK Government commitment on deposit return will be, and we understand that no decision has been taken so far. It is a little difficult to work in an environment in which no decision is being taken on the other side.
I reiterate the commitment that we do not want the scheme to be just about plastic bottles; we want to make it about cans and glass, too. We want to be as ambitious as we can be.
In our programme for government, we have recognised the need for funding to address, for example, litter sinks, and we will strive to help affected communities.
I welcome the enthusiasm and energy of members who highlighted specific issues and called for action. I want to approach the issue in a strategic fashion that avoids unintended consequences for society and the environment. The 2030 vision for ending single-use plastics in our society gives us a focus for beginning to consider the strategy for achieving it.
Work is being done to implement a code of conduct for the Scottish plastics industry and on the safe handling, packaging and transportation by sea of plastic pellets, or nurdles. We continue to encourage the voluntary work that can be done; the message is that good handling practice can easily reduce pellet loss. There are legislative and regulatory challenges in seeking to ban certain materials. Voluntary initiatives might succeed, but we will explore whether and how legislation could be developed to address the issue.
The Government believes that the case has been made for deposit return. We want an ambitious system, as I said. We are consulting on a scheme this year, so concrete action is being taken.
Any solution to the cumulative damage that plastics are doing to our environment and economy involves us all, so I will work with anyone who has an appetite for change. The success of the carrier bag charge, which members mentioned, shows what can be achieved through small, simple actions.
We have a long way to go, although members have been able to reference the huge difference that is already being made. Media coverage in recent months has thrown into sharp focus the fragile beauty of our environment; it has also captured the imagination of audiences, which we need to mobilise—this is a moment when we need to act quickly.
The Scottish Government will encourage and indeed legislate to address the problem, but we also need to inspire individual and societal change. That means leading from the front in our own lives. It means setting an example of the society that we want to be, for the environment that we want to protect. I am certain that not a single member in this chamber feels less strongly about that than I do.
I hope that I am concluding at about the time when you needed me to conclude, Presiding Officer.