Plastic buds are banned in Scotland

Photo for submission. Copyright David JonesScotland bans plastic-stemmed cotton buds in a bid to rid beaches of single use plastic

Plastic-stemmed cotton buds are set to be replaced with paper ones after new Scottish legislation to ban this single use plastic comes into force on Saturday; the first country in the UK to do so. Often flushed down toilets, cotton buds have been washing up on our shores in their thousands for years and are one of the top ten litter items found on UK beaches[1]. Not only unsightly once in the environment, plastic cotton bud stems also pose a threat to wildlife and have been found in the stomachs of seabirds[2] and turtles[3]-[4]


A success

The ban marks a wonderful success for Fidra. We started The Cotton Bud Project in 2013 after staff noticed thousands of cotton buds washing up along the East Lothian coastline and found evidence of a widespread environmental issue. The team persuaded a number of manufacturers and retailers to switch from plastic to less damaging paper stems before turning their attention to legislation (find out more about the whole process by reading our Case Study). This led to a Scottish Government consultation in 2018, which saw overwhelming public support for a ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds.


New legislation

The new legislation banning the sale and manufacture of plastic-stemmed cotton buds, which comes into force on the 12th October, is welcome news.

Jasper Hamlet, project officer at Fidra which ran The Cotton Bud Project said:

“This ban marks the beginning of the end for plastic cotton bud pollution and is a fantastic step towards tackling unnecessary single use plastic. The ban will no doubt be welcomed by all those who have seen cotton buds polluting our beaches, and by those of us involved in making this a reality; from big businesses who made the switch from plastic to paper, to consumers who have supported plastic alternatives and to Great British Beach Clean volunteers who logged thousands of washed up cotton buds. This legislation is an important part of changing the way we use and value plastics. We hope it is the first of many more concrete actions towards tackling plastic pollution in Scotland and beyond”

Natural Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon said:

“I am proud that the Scottish Government will shortly become the first UK administration to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds. Single-use plastic products are wasteful and their incorrect disposal creates litter and threatens our wildlife on land and at sea.

“The ban, which comes into force on Saturday, builds on work already underway to address Scotland’s throw-away culture, and we will continue to take action on other problematic items in the coming years as part of our efforts to reduce harmful plastics and single-use products, protect our environment and grow our circular economy.”


A plastic problemCotton buds and nurdles found in a regurgitated gull pellet on Inchkeith, Firth of the Forth

Washed up plastic cotton buds have become a regular sighting during seaside visits over the last decade. In 2018, 21.1 cotton buds were found for every 100m of beached surveyed during Marine Conservation Society’s ‘The Great British Beach Clean’[5]. If flushed down toilets, their size and shape mean cotton buds slip through wastewater treatment systems, wash into rivers and seas, and end up on beaches.

Not only are cotton buds unsightly, but they are a danger to wildlife and an indicator marking the trail of sewage from bathroom to beach. The Scottish coast attracts wildlife such as turtles4 and important populations of seabirds2, both of which have been shown to ingest plastic, including fragments of cotton buds (right).

Photo Credit: Cotton buds and nurdles found in a

regurgitated gull pellet on Inchkeith, Firth of the Forth


A vital step

This new legislation will help prevent further pollution of plastic cotton buds in Scotland and even though paper cotton buds should be disposed of responsibly with household waste, if mistakenly flushed down toilets they pose less risk to marine wildlife.

Banning the manufacture and sale of plastic cotton buds is a small but vital step on the journey to end plastic pollution. It highlights the broader issue of unnecessary plastic use and encourages businesses, government and people to take further action.   







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