Scottish Parliament to debate tackling single-use plastic pollution

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 7 February 2018

The Scottish Parliament will discuss the impact of single-use plastics on land and around the coasts later today.

Bottle Caps
© Alum Rhisiart

More still needs to be done to stop the plastic tide and we look forward to hearing an update on the work the Scottish Government is doing to tackle the issue of litter in Scotland’s seas and on our beaches.

Catherine Gemmell,
MCS Scotland Conservation Officer

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, will tell Holyrood that there is an increasing recognition of the damage single-use plastics are doing domestically and globally and that a more evidence-based approach is needed to successfully tackle the issue.

The debate comes as leading academic, Dr Mark Hartl, an associate professor of marine biology at Heriot-Watt University, is also calling on the Scottish Government to go further in the fight to address the occurrence of microplastics around beaches and shores.

Last week, MCS gave the Cabinet Secretary a report highlighting the extent of the problem of drinks bottle and can littering across Scotland following the charity’s #wildbottlesightings campaign.

Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland Conservation Officer says: “Ocean Plastics have been on the front pages of newspapers, discussed on radio stations and shown on television shows more times than we can now count so it is fantastic to see the issue being brought to the front and centre in the Scottish Parliament today.”

We have seen great progress in Scotland toward reducing beach litter including developing a Marine Litter Strategy; the 5p carrier bag charge; the commitment to a deposit return system for bottles and cans and this year a proposal to ban plastic cotton bud stems. However, with easy alternatives to single use plastic straws, coffee cups, cutlery and food trays, much more can be done by Government, industry and individuals.”

Roseanna Cunningham has said she will continue to call on the UK Government to follow Scotland’s example and commit to a deposit return scheme to build on the success of plastic carrier bag charges and change people’s attitudes towards waste and littering.

“The Scottish Government have been leading the way with solutions including the announcement to introduce a deposit return system last year and just a few weeks ago a proposal to ban plastic cotton bud stems,” said Catherine Gemmell. “However more still needs to be done to stop the plastic tide and we look forward to hearing an update on the work the Scottish Government is doing to tackle the issue of litter in Scotland’s seas and on our beaches.”

Dr Mark Hartl, said although he supports plastic bag tax and deposit return schemes - more should be done to protect natural marine habitats.

Recent research from Heriot-Watt’s Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology revealed that the levels of microplastics in the Firth of Forth have not changed significantly in the last five years, indicating that the sources of microplastics are still not being adequately addressed.

Dr Hartl said that whilst a levy on single-use plastic items implemented by the Scottish Government will help to influence consumer behaviour locally, it is not a uniquely Scottish problem, but would send a strong signal to governments of other countries.

“We need a baseline for all of the UK’s waters, so that we can assess the impact of government policies that aim to reduce marine pollution, such as the microbead ban. At present we only have a patchwork of data from studies in Scotland and comparable North Sea locations.

“The growing amount of data regarding plastic litter contamination in the marine environment has led to the need for understanding the related risks not only to the health of marine life, but to humans as well: microplastics are working their way into our food chain.”

Catherine Gemmell says that given Scotland’s aspiration for a zero waste future in a circular economy, a range of options urgently need consideration, including: minimum recycled content in plastic products; installing water fountains and refill stations in public areas; using the Chinese decision to not accept some of our waste as an opportunity to create recycling infrastructure here in the UK.

“Much of this we are sure will already be in discussion by the Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland and we look forward to seeing what steps Scotland will take next; in particular, we are eager to hear the next steps for the implementation of Scotland’s Deposit Return System,” she concluded.

MCS is currently [calling on UK governments to put a charge on single-use plastic throwaway items](

Actions you can take

  1. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  2. Find out more about Scottish Wildlife
  3. Browse Scotland's Marine Atlas
  4. Help us stop the plastic tide

Did you know?…

On UK beaches levels of litter have doubled in the past 20 years

UK Seas provide us with resources from fish to renewable marine energy

Scotland has 10% of Europe’s coastline