Friday, 9 March 2018

Single-Use Plastics We Would Like Fife Council To Lead The Way

Yesterday my colleague, Cllr Darren Watt and I brought a motion to the full Council meeting asking for the transition away from single-use plastic products in both Fife House and Rothesay House - the two main buildings of Fife Council (both in Glenrothes). The text of the motion read as follows:

"Council recognises the devastating impact plastic pollution is having on our environment and the escalating costs of recycling such materials. Council acknowledges we must lead by examples, step up our own efforts and encourage others to follow suit.
Fife Council will begin by transitioning away from single-use plastics commencing at Fife House and Rothesay House, Glenrothes."

Proposed by Councillor Darren Watt
Seconded by Councillor Kathleen Leslie

Unsurprisingly, the SNP-Labour Administration put up an amendment. It read:

"Council welcomes the growth of community-led strategic to combat the spread of the use of plastics in fife such as the pilot project proposed by the Cowdenbeath Area Committee which, if successful, could be rolled out to every community in Cowdenbeath/Lochgelly area.

Council agrees, whilst local initiatives like the compostable carrier bag scheme are welcome as is the elimination of plastics straws and cups from premises occupied by the Council and the Sports and Leisure Trust, that the impact of plastic pollution can only be effectively countered by a Fife-wide strategy.

Council notes that a Council wide Zero Waste Resources Strategy will be considered by the Environment, Protective Services and Community Safety Committee when it meets next week, and that preventing waste, particularly single use plastics, will be fundamental to the implementation of the Strategy, as it may be agreed."

I have since looked at the upcoming Committee papers and see little that offers any real commitment or timescale. 

Given the precise and non-politically aligned nature of our amendment we approached the SNP proposer of the amendment and asked if it would be possible to conjoin our motion onto theirs. We felt that their amendment failed to address the specifics of the issue and that by conjoining it we could have consensus. Instead we were advised that our motion could lead to job losses and was not possible. We were shocked by this as this was not our intention nor do we believe it would be the outcome. The text of our motion read "begin transitioning away from single-use plastics" - "begin" - as in there is plastic cutlery available in the Council's restaurant but there is also stainless steel cutlery, so why not begin with that? Then move onto looking at encouraging staff to use in house cups/mugs for their coffee and tea, rather than the difficult to recycle cardboard/plastic takeaway cups? Then look at the water dispensers provided and instead of using the small plastic cups, bring your own cup - given that some local authorities do not even provide water dispensers this was no big ask. Many just have the taps in the kitchen! As one SNP councillor was keen to point out yesterday - Scottish drinking water tastes better than water elsewhere (I do not happen to disagree). 

It seemed that if we pushed for no single-use plastics then it would put people off going into the restaurant and the knock on effect would be job losses and possibly an end to the restaurant! I find this quite incredible given that up and down the country the overwhelming majority of people try to recycle as much as possible and reduce their plastic waste and many coffee chains are now offering discounts on "bring your own" coffee/tea cup (the ones that you can easily carry on the go) - are Fife Council staff such that they wouldn't use the restaurant if they couldn't get a plastic knife and fork?! Is that really what some Councillors think? If we were to believe that then surely when supermarkets introduced a 5p plastic bag charge everyone would stop shopping in them?! 

No, that is not the case. Nor do I believer that either Labour or the SNP are so naive as to believe that moving away from single-use plastics in two Council buildings would result in the doom-filled scenario presented to us yesterday. Given the SNP Scottish Government has continued to push for a Zero Waste Scotland which will include a reduction in landfill, increased recycling and introducing the 5p plastic bag tax, I really find it difficult to believe there was anything to oppose yesterday. 

Well except one thing - the motion was a Conservative one. That in itself ensured it could not be allowed to be passed. After all, Conservatives couldn't be seen to be leading the way in protecting the environment, could they? This was nothing but petty party politics and was particularly unfortunate considering that during my research of the motion I discovered other Scottish Councils where there appears to be some cross-party consensus. 

I spoke yesterday (text below) about how Fife Council has been a leader in waste reduction strategy and recycling which has therefore, doubled by disappointment at the outcome and added to that by an email update this morning which reminded councillors of the reduced opening times of recycling facilities in Fife. Read of that what you will. 

Here is what I said yesterday (below the text please find the relevant links to this story).

Single-Use Plastics

"First, I would like to thank my colleague, Cllr Watt for bringing this motion to Council today. Single-use plastic products have long been a bugbear of mine. Therefore, I was pleased to see him take a lead on making progress to move away from such products in both Fife House and Rothesay House.

Around a decade ago I watched a documentary on what is referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, I am sure most of you will have heard of it. I was absolutely shocked and disgusted by the fact that such accumulation of plastics – the majority of them single-use, from around the world, had formed on the ocean’s surface. An area is now reckoned to be possibly around twice the size of France. There have since been discovered to be similar formations in both the North and South Atlantic.

The damage this has caused to marine life continues to grow – seabirds and whales washed up on beaches with stomachs full of discarded lighters, bottle tops, plastic bags and other plastic debris – estimates are around 1 million seabirds a year die globally as a result of ingesting discarded plastics. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet in December horrifyingly illustrated the damage being done by plastic, the team filming it said there was very rarely a time they filmed when they did not come upon plastic in the sea.

A recent study by Newcastle University found that such is the scale of the problem, that microscopic animals in the deepest trenches of the Pacific Ocean, some 11km down, had traces of fibres that had originated in plastic bottles and packaging. Dr Alan Jamieson who led the study has stated that an estimated 300m tonnes of plastic now litters the oceans, with around 5 trillion plastic pieces floating on the surface.

What can we do? To introduce a move away from single-use plastics here in two Council buildings may seem a small and inconsequential step, given the information I have just provided. However, Fife is already a leading local authority in promoting recycling of household waste – including plastics, our schools through programmes such as Ecoschools, teach environmental awareness from an early age – I believe 79 schools in Fife currently have a Green Flag. Council facilities such as libraries provide recycling facilities as does the FSLT – much progress has been made.

Single-use coffee cups are notoriously difficult to recycle due to them being made of mixed materials and we really don’t need plastic cutlery when there is already an alternative provided. Instead of using throwaway plastic cups for water why not bring a refillable water bottle, they are cheap to purchase and provided they are BPA free and cleaned properly, they can last for years.  With the best will in the world not all of these end up being recycled and find their way into landfill or discarded where they end up in the sea.

Therefore, let us continue to be a leader and reduce the damage being caused by single-use plastic products simply by moving away from providing them. I ask you to support this motion."

Cllr Kathleen Leslie

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