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Turning the tide: Work to cut plastic waste has been ‘pushed into reverse’ by coronavirus pandemic

Plastic pollution on a beach
Plastic pollution on a beach

Scottish ministers fear that work to cut environmentally damaging single-use products has been “pushed into reverse” during the pandemic.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she had “real concerns” over the “rapid return” of disposable items such as plastics during the public health crisis.

In recent years the Scottish Government had been taking action to try to address the nation’s “throwaway culture” by moving to ban the likes of plastic straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and the manufacture and sale of microbeads.

But the coronavirus crisis is feared to have undermined that work in a number of ways, including a reduction in recycling rates during lockdown and a rise in demand for pre-packaged food and takeaways.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s environment committee on Monday, Ms Cunningham highlighted the issue as she warned that not all of the recent public behaviour changes had been positive.

“We will want to build on behaviour changes that we think are good and helpful, but there are other behavioural changes we will want to rapidly find a way around,” she said.

“One of my real concerns, and we will all have seen it, is the rapid return to single-use items and a kind of, regrettably, careless disposal.

“So there are some real issues there, where we were making really good headway, and we were building in some fantastic behavioural change, which to a greater or lesser extent has now been pushed into reverse.”

Ms Cunningham told the MSPs that the government needed to ascertain “aspects of the behavioural change which we will want to sustain, and the aspects which we will not want to sustain”.

But she said “real analysis is quite hard to do” at the moment, and added: “I genuinely don’t know what the answer to some of this is.”

The environment, climate change and land reform secretary said: “I think it’s fair for us to be honestly admitting that there are areas of human behaviour now that we can’t be certain how they will look in six months, a year or two years’ time.”

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