Inspired by popularity of hashtag #naystrawatall, Scottish government is investigating whether it can impose a national ban on plastic straws
Just weeks after announcing a ban on plastic cotton buds, the Scottish government has plastic straws in its crosshairs.
Scottish cabinet secretary for environment, climate change and land reform Roseanna Cunningham confirmed yesterday that her officials are investigating whether devolution rules will allow Scotland to ban plastic straws across the country.
Speaking to BusinessGreen ahead of an address at an event hosted by Scotland House and Green Alliance in London, Cunningham said the Scottish government was responding to the public outcry over the issue of plastic waste and the growing popularity of #NaeStrawAtAw hashtag on Twitter.
She pointed out that Ullapool, a village in the Scottish Highlands, recently became the first village in the country to ban the use of plastic straws in its cafes, bars, supermarket and restaurants, following a campaign by pupils from the local primary school.
"The straws one is being currently assessed - we are gathering evidence about that," she said. "A lot of school kids have got very engaged with it. So the straws are the next ones in line."
Last week the Scottish government announced plans to ban the use of "unnecessary" cotton buds and promote biodegradeable alternatives.
Cunningham told BusinessGreen the Scottish government must look at bans on plastic items on an "issue-by-issue" basis, to ensure it operates within its devolution arrangement with Westminster, and that there are easily available alternatives.
But she said she would also be keen to see the sale of plastic toothpicks banned, given the damage they can cause to wildlife when accidentally ingested.
Over the weekend, Cunningham also committed to meeting an EU target to ensure plastic is reusable or recyclable by 2030, regardless of Brexit.
She told BusinessGreen Scotland would go as far as possible within its powers to ensure it matches the ambition in the EU on plastic waste. "Even if we are not in the EU, we in Scotland will continue to look to them to take our lead. So when we saw that they had made that 2030 commitment, I just felt then, well, why would we not?"
Cunningham also said the UK government in Westminster should be moving further and faster to cut plastic waste, urging them to match the EU's 2030 target.
She described herself as "puzzled" that Environment Secretary Michael Gove did not commit the UK outright to implementing a levy on single-use plastics in the 25 Year Environment Plan released earlier this month.
Cunningham said Scotland has established a research panel on the issue solely because it has to consider what levies or taxes it can raise within the bounds of the devolution agreement - and questioned why Gove needs to establish the UK's own call for evidence on the issue.
"The levies and taxes are an areas where we have to be careful about the devolved/reserved competency," she said. "So I was a little puzzled I have to say by Michael Gove coming forward with exactly the same line as we had, about a panel looking at this. Because we have a very technical reason why we have to do that, because we have to be sure that we have the competency to do that form of levy. He knows he has [that power], he doesn't need a group of people telling him he has."
Likewise, in her speech Cunningham said the Scottish government was "perplexed and disappointed" by the lack of firm commitment to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles in the Plan.
"I issue this challenge to Michael Gove: Let's do this," she said. "Let's work together to deliver a DRS of which we can all be proud."
A spokesman for Defra said the government has been clear about its commitment to tackling plastic waste, pointing to measures including the ban on microbeads, an extension of the plastic bag levy and plans for plastic-free supermarket aisles, and said the government is considering a DRS.
"A call for evidence was carried out to help us understand how deposit and reward and return schemes for plastic bottles and other drinks containers could work in England," he added. "We are considering that evidence fully and will announce the results in due course."
Regardless of the results of Defra's consultation it looks like the Westminster government can expect pressure from north of the border for it to fast track new measures will intensify.
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