Scottish Parliament building banishes plastic drinking straws forever

02.02.2018

Plastic drinking straws have been banished for good at the Scottish Parliament, it has been announced.Scottish Parliament bans plastic straws

But it turns out that Holyrood’s catering outlets have been moving steadily away from non-recyclable materials for years.

Whether it’s starch-based cutlery, bio-plastic food containers or mixed card coffee cups and lids that can be composted, we find out more about the Parliament building’s efforts to reduce, recycle, reuse.

Up until the end of 2017, the Parliament’s catering outlets were using around 4,000 plastic drinking straws a year, but with ever-growing concern over single use plastics, staff decided it was time to make the switch.

Kezia Dugdale MSP, member of Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) that’s responsible for running Holyrood said:

“The Parliament wasn’t a big consumer of plastic straws but switching to a paper version was a no brainer.

“When staff approached our supplier at the start of the year for an alternative to plastic, we discovered they could just as easily provide paper straws for pretty much the same cost.

“In our public café, some people need straws, especially those with young children, but we make a point of having them available on request rather than simply offer them up to temptation. We’ve all taken a plastic straw before just because we fancied one.

“These are pretty small changes to make, but it’s part of a bigger picture in thinking about our actions and protecting our environment.”

The switch to paper straws has only just happened at Holyrood, but the Parliament has been targeting waste reduction from its catering outlets for some time now.

In 2011, the Parliament switched to fully compostable cups and lids for takeaway coffees after an in-house audit identified that much of the Parliament’s landfill waste was disposable coffee cups. Even better than putting bio-degradable cups in compost bins, MSPs and staff are encouraged to bring their own mugs to the coffee bar in the first place with a loyalty reward scheme.

For security reasons, the public café at Holyrood doesn’t provide metal knives and forks. So instead of single-use plastic cutlery, catering staff sourced knives, forks and spoons made from a starch-based material that can be composted. Introduced in early 2017, the cutlery looks and feels quite ordinary, but the signs in the café make clear that these won’t be going to landfill.

Same in the Garden Level staff restaurant: takeaway boxes that look like they might be polystyrene are actually made of ‘bagasse’, the fibrous material that remains after sugar cane is crushed to extract its juice. It’s sustainable and bio-degradable.

The dessert containers and fruit pots look like clear plastic but are in fact ‘bio-plastic’, manufactured from corn plants. So it’s carbon absorbing when it grows and is compostable when you have finished eating your lunch from it. The takeaway soup cups are a mix of bio-degradable cardboard with bio-plastic lids.

Kezia Dugdale added:

“So whether it’s a move away from using a plastic straw that you didn’t really need in the first place, or it’s a bit of lateral thinking to find alternative, sustainable materials for everyday use, it all adds up, it all makes a difference to our planet.”

Background information

Kezia Dugdale’s SPCB portfolio includes responsibility for facilities management at Holyrood - more here.

The Parliament’s takeaway coffee cups and lids are a mix of card and PLA bio-plastic, designed to compost fully within 12 weeks in an industrial composter.

Take away boxes are typically made of bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugar cane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juice. Bagasse is utilised as a biofuel and in the manufacture of pulp and building materials.

When pizza is on the takeaway menu at Holyrood, the boxes are compostable and made from 65% recycled paper and 35% natural fibre grown from renewable resource.

As at March 2017, 89% of the Parliament’s waste material was either recycled or composted. More on the Parliament’s environmental performance can be found here.