Commission Should Cotton On To The Damage Caused By Cotton-Buds

07 June 2010

On European Green Week, SNP MEP Alyn Smith is calling on the Commission to introduce a ban on the use of non-biodegradable material on the use of cotton-buds and other sanitary items, which are polluting Scotland's beaches and placing it high up Europe's litter league.

It is estimated that 340 million sanitary items are flushed down the toilet every year in Scotland. These materials cause problems throughout the waste water infrastructure causing blockages and damage to screens. Many of the items escape into the aquatic environment and wash up on beaches and riverbanks spoiling the aesthetics of our countryside.
As the majority of items are made of plastic they persevere in the natural environment for many years and cotton-bud sticks in particular can often be found littering the sand on our award winning beaches. In 2007, the Marine Conservation Society found over 16,000 plastic cotton-bud sticks over 354 beaches.
Calum Duncan, MCS Scottish Conservation Manager said:
"Cotton-bud sticks are a regular blight on Scotland's shores. Figures from our annual Beachwatch Big Weekend survey show that cotton-bud sticks are a major component  of sewage related debris, proportionately more of which washes up on Scotland's beaches then elsewhere in the UK.  Whilst people shouldn't be flushing them down the toilet in the first place, making the stems biodegradable instead of plastic would reduce the burden on our beaches from those that do get flushed. We would therefore welcome a ban on non-biodegradable materials in the manufacture of cotton-bud sticks."
Fish and seabirds often confuse bits of plastic from cotton-buds and other products as either food or as nesting material and have been observed trying to feed them to their young.  It is estimated that 100,000 marine animals die each year because of plastic pollution. But it is not only sea creatures who suffer. Swimming in water littered with used sanitary products is obviously also a serious health-hazard for humans as well.
Calum McPhail, Environmental Quality Manager for SEPA, said:
"With the bathing water season starting this week (1 June) we're keen to remind everyone to realise how flushing objects down the toilet can risk affecting the beautiful beaches that we're fortunate to have in Scotland.
"People need to remember that what they flush away and pour down drains can have a direct effect on the quality of our beaches and bathing waters. Sewer drains and treatment facilities cannot cope with fats, oils, greases and litter such as cotton buds, which can clog them up, form blockages and result in breakdowns and sewage spills. Sanitary waste objects can get washed onto beaches and is really unsightly and unpleasant to beach visitors."

Alyn Smith said:

"It is astonishing to think that a raft of plastic litter larger than France is now floating in the Pacific Ocean. Tackling cotton-buds is an easy and achievable start to tackling the wider problem of plastics.
"As it is European Green Week, now seems a greater time than any to raise awareness of the issue and to push the matter of introducing degradable plastics right up the EU agenda. I have lodged a PQ calling on the Commission to stop analysing data on the matter and act quickly and decisively to stop the situation worsening."


John Summers OBE, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful said:

"Keep Scotland Beautiful would support a ban on plastic sanitary items and cotton bud sticks, but in the meantime I would call upon manufacturers to brand such products with clear messaging about appropriate disposal methods and encourage everyone to think before they flush and bag and bin sanitary items instead of using our toilets as a wet bin."