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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 3, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 03 October 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Great British Beach Clean, Scotland’s Onshore Unconventional Oil and Gas Policy, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Motion Without Notice, Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time


Great British Beach Clean

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18053, in the name of Maurice Corry, on the Great British beach clean. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the efforts of the Marine Conservation Society in raising awareness of the importance of keeping beaches clean for the sake of marine wildlife; acknowledges that sign-ups for the Marine Conservation Society’s flagship Great British Beach Clean event in September 2019 are now open; understands that each year the citizen science project involves thousands of volunteers heading out across Scotland, including in the West Scotland region and the rest of the UK, to clean beaches and collect invaluable data on the litter that is washing up on shores; further understands that, following the 2018 Beachwatch project, it was shown that beach litter had risen by an average of 14% in just one year for those beaches surveyed in Scotland, and notes calls for all MSPs to get involved with their local Great British Beach Clean events between 20 and 23 September 2019.


First of all, I thank all the members who very kindly signed my recent motion to allow the debate to take place. I am so pleased to speak on the amazing Great British beach clean. Every September, we can all take part in a beach clean and collect data from the litter that we find. This year’s national beach clean took place from 20 to 23 September, and I was happy to join the local beach clean in Arrochar, where almost 1,000 articles were collected by me and other volunteers in a 100m stretch.

Organised by the Marine Conservation Society, the innovative project has long promoted the necessity of ensuring that our beaches are clean, while protecting marine life. The work of the MCS has confronted us all with the threat of the plastic tide. There is now more litter in our waters than ever before. For that precise reason, we cannot underestimate the damaging legacy of plastic. Ocean pollution has reached an emergency scale—it is a true crisis. Across hundreds of different and unique species, we see many cases of marine life becoming entangled in, or accidentally swallowing, plastic and other litter.

As long as we carry on using plastic as much as we do, the estimation is that, by 2050, there will be more plastic in our seas than fish. With the Great British beach clean, we have the opportunity to not only raise awareness but contribute to vital information gathering on marine litter. All that those who take part have to do is survey a 100m stretch of the beach and tally each piece of litter that they find. That information, gathered from every beach clean around the United Kingdom, is collated in a database, which informs the work and focus of the Marine Conservation Society. Indeed, it helps to shape awareness-raising campaigns to reduce the sources of litter. For other experts and organisations in the field of marine litter, such data informs their research of pollution trends immensely.

On both a national and an international scale, the Great British beach clean is, at its heart, a citizen science project. Through partnership, every volunteer can become part of the wider movement of caring for marine life. As a huge-scale, cross-generational and collaborative effort between volunteers and experts, it is an innovative and organic project. As part of the international coastal clean-up, it allows communities to rally together in their passion for protecting their coastline. For families with children, helping out at their local beach clean is a practical and fun way to learn about the consequences of marine litter.

The year 2020 will be the year of coasts and waters, and a host of events is planned to promote Scotland’s natural environment and encourage responsible engagement. As part of that, it would be fantastic for beach clean volunteering to reach its highest numbers ever. Indeed, the MCS has already seen a rise in the number of volunteers from just over 200 in the first year of the Great British beach clean to around 2,900 in 2018, which is an incredible advance.

This year, my local beach clean under the GBBC banner was organised by the Group for Recycling in Argyll and Bute—or GRAB—Trust. For the past 20 years, GRAB has worked with not only the MCS but Marine Scotland, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park and Keep Scotland Beautiful to promote recycling and beach cleaning in local schools and the wider community.

Awareness of beach cleans has grown to the extent that the Marine Conservation Society can say that they are finally mainstream, and long may that continue. Documentaries such as the “Blue Planet” series and “Drowning in Plastic”, which I am sure that all members will have seen, have helped to open up the topic to a much wider audience. They have shown the horrifying impact of litter on our precious marine wildlife and have motivated many of us to do something about it.

Each contribution helps, especially when we consider that Scotland is lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom when it comes to the scale of marine litter. Although there was an overall reduction of 16 per cent in the amount of such litter in the UK last year, there was a 14 per cent increase in Scotland. More polystyrene, microplastic and sewage-related debris, such as wet wipes and cotton buds, was found on Scottish beaches than was found on beaches anywhere else in the UK.

During the Arrochar beach clean, more than 90 per cent of what we found was plastic or polystyrene. Moreover, I have read of the increasing problem of cigarette filters on our beaches. Cigarette filters were the number 1 item found by volunteers across the world. As those cigarette butts slowly degrade into smaller pieces of plastic, they spread damaging toxins into the environment. That shows the extent of the problem that we and the generations to come face, and we must be aware of the part that we need to play in tackling it.

After 26 years, the Marine Conservation Society beach cleans have brought about positive, forward-thinking and forward-looking changes in policy, such as a reduction in plastic straw use, the introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge and commitments to push for deposit return schemes for cans and bottles. Those progressive changes have come about as a result of the findings of the annual beach surveys.

Given that the ocean and climate emergencies are reaching an ever more critical stage, we cannot afford to be complacent in our decision making. For the sake of Scotland’s waters and wildlife, we need to promote efficiency and sustainability as pillars of any legislation that deals with our environment. The promise to implement a deposit return scheme for glass, plastic and metal by April 2021 should be realised. We can all play our part to encourage the use of reusable packaging and to reduce the amount of single-use plastics, which are a common find on beach cleans. We must realise that, despite fluctuations over the years, the litter trend is rising, so it is fundamental that we push forward with such changes. We recognise that the scale of the issue is far wider than we can know, as there are still beaches on our coastline that are yet to be surveyed.

Each year, the Marine Conservation Society has garnered more and more data and, this year, it hopes to reach more beaches than ever before with an even bigger army of volunteers. Each contribution informs the data, which in turn informs change. That is how we can gain a greater understanding of how we can stop litter right at its source.


I congratulate Maurice Corry on securing the debate, which recognises the important work of the Marine Conservation Society in keeping beaches clean and helping marine wildlife. The MCS is the UK’s leading marine environment charity, which campaigns to increase protection of the seas around our coasts. It organises an annual Great British beach clean—this year, it was held from 20 to 23 September—which is the largest volunteer beach clean and litter survey in the UK. This was the 26th year of the event.

The beach clean programme has a dual purpose. First, local volunteers help to clean beaches to preserve the coastal environment and to reduce the immense pressure on the planet’s oceans. Secondly, the society conducts a detailed survey of the items that are collected, as Maurice Corry outlined. That data is added to the MCS litter database and sent to ministers to inform policy.

Last month, 12 beach cleans took place in North Ayrshire. I participated in the Largs beach clean in my constituency on the dreich morning of Sunday 23 September, along with Patricia Gibson MP and 16 other volunteers. Together, we cleaned the beach from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution station on Largs promenade to the marina, collecting 67kg of litter, an old fish box and a car wheel. We were then thawed out by complementary coffee, tea and bacon rolls at Scotts in Largs marina.

Last year, 15,000 volunteers cleaned 494 UK beaches, collecting a staggering 8,550kg of litter. In Scotland, volunteer numbers rose by 83 per cent, with 22 per cent more beaches being cleaned and 559 items being collected per 100m, compared with a UK average of 601 items.

There are eight main types of coastal litter: plastic, glass, metal, cloth, paper, polystyrene, rubber and wood. Up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the sea globally each year, which is the equivalent of a truck full a minute. That is shocking, given that a single plastic bottle can remain intact for 450 years and then degrade only into smaller pieces. However, according to an international coastal clean-up report, the most common piece of litter found in beach cleans across the world is cigarette butts. Almost 4,000 million cigarettes are smoked in Scotland each year. The cellulose acetate plastic filters take years to degrade and they leach toxins into the environment.

Beach litter has a significant impact on marine wildlife. Almost 98 per cent of dead North Sea fulmars studied had plastic in their stomachs. The economic cost of coastal and marine litter to the Scottish fishing industry alone is £13 million a year. Globally, millions of birds, marine mammals and sea turtles die each year after becoming entangled in or eating plastic materials, while plastic has undoubtedly entered the food chain through the fish that we eat.

An estimated 70 per cent of marine litter sinks to the bottom of the sea, 15 per cent floats and 15 per cent is washed up on our coasts, so beach cleans give only a flavour of the magnitude of the damage inflicted. Keep Scotland Beautiful has developed a national clean up Scotland campaign that has supported more than 620,000 participants to remove more than 6,000 tonnes of litter from across Scotland. Keep Scotland Beautiful also piloted the my beach, your beach campaign last summer to encourage behavioural change and raise awareness of beach littering.

I have organised many beach cleans, including the annual Cumbrae beach clean, which I have organised and participated in for the past 13 years. We should all play our part in preserving Scotland’s beautiful coastal environment. An increased willingness to beach clean is undoubtedly due to the success of television programmes such as “Blue Planet II”, which showed starkly the impact of marine pollution.

I commend all the volunteers who participated in the 2019 Great British beach clean and thank them for their efforts to ensure that our beaches are cleaner, less hazardous to wildlife and safer for people to enjoy. I also thank Maurice Corry for bringing this debate to the chamber.


I, too, thank my colleague Maurice Corry for bringing this debate to the chamber.

As a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and as my party’s spokesperson on the natural environment, the subject of this debate is close to my heart. With the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill being passed last week in the Scottish Parliament, we are at a critical stage in how we ensure that we protect our natural environment, and we all must do our bit on that.

I am biased, but everybody knows that my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries is the most picturesque of all constituencies and has one of the most wonderful coastlines in all of Scotland. Indeed, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, recently visited the area and was full of praise for it; I look forward to having more conversations with her about the creation of a Galloway national park on that basis.

It is clear that more and more people are recognising the need to do more to ensure that our beaches are litter free. What is even more encouraging, though, is that that recognition is intergenerational, with both our young folk and the not so young putting their hearts and souls into ever more frequent beach cleans across the country. Many groups have emerged in Dumfries and Galloway in recent months and years that are doing great work in cleaning up our beaches, which are sadly overloaded with litter and plastic. For example, D&G Eco Warriors has been carrying out regular beach cleans since 2018. Mullock Bay was the targeted beach over the recent beach clean-up weekend, with lots collected by those in attendance. I am sure that the grey seals that were keeping a close eye on things certainly enjoyed seeing their beach tidied up.

Not for the first time, Hardgate primary school pupils should also be extremely proud of themselves for taking part in the beach clean at Brighouse Bay in Kirkcudbright. They collected and surveyed the waste and ended up gathering 29kg of largely plastic waste. Beach litter is an extremely sad sight, but it fills me with optimism when I see youngsters getting involved and appreciating how important our natural environment is to all our futures.

Another mammoth clean-up was led by the plastic free communities campaign in Dumfries and Galloway, alongside the local oceans need us project, the Solway Firth Partnership, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, at the Cairndoon shore, with 29 volunteers turning out. A huge skip was filled in four hours. It is quite astonishing just how much people can lift off the beach in one clean.

The ECCLR Committee will soon start work scrutinising the Government’s deposit return scheme proposals. A successful scheme will do a lot of good for Scotland and the rest of the UK. One benefit will be to substantially reduce drinks container litter and leave our pavements, hills and beaches free from it.

Scotland spends £75 million a year dealing with litter and its effects, and that money could be far better spent on other public services. Many people spend hours volunteering to clear up litter, and their time could be better spent just enjoying the natural environment. A properly implemented, and preferably UK-wide, deposit return scheme would significantly reduce drinks container litter, which makes up a significant part of our beach litter. I know that the Marine Conservation Society approves of such a system.

The D&G Eco Warriors motto is “Together we can make a difference”, which is a sentiment that I believe should be spread right across our communities. Beach cleans are a fun way of helping the community as well as protecting our natural environment. Earlier this year, the group highlighted that the shores at Barlocco Bay and Castle Muir in the Stewartry region were the worst that the group’s members had ever seen. The items that had been dumped or washed up included wheelie bins, traffic cones, parking bollards and 30 or 40 fishing boxes. The group said that every step was on plastic and that it would take days to fully clean it up.

I have lived in Dumfries and Galloway all my life and have enjoyed numerous days out to our stunning coastal towns and villages, and I want future generations to experience them in pristine condition. The statistic that litter on beaches rose by 14 per cent in just a year should put pressure on every one of us to take action. Although the sort of groups that I have mentioned are leading the way, we all have a responsibility to do our bit. I encourage everyone to find out about their local group and to go along if they can. In doing so, people will be doing their bit for the environment and—who knows?—they might make a few new friends in the process, with everyone working towards the same goal. In that, I include us politicians—we need to get out with our litter pickers as well.


I thank Maurice Corry for bringing the debate to the chamber. There is no doubt that Scotland is renowned the world over for its incredible natural heritage, and our beaches have a special place in that recognition. I contend that the quality and beauty of our beaches and their surrounding landscapes mean that they rival beaches in the Caribbean or Pacific islands, although the weather may not be in the same league. One only has to think of the majestic strands in the Western Isles to see that. Of course, my constituency has a couple of beaches that are ideal for a leisurely stroll along the Forth on a Sunday, or in fact any day of the week.

Across the world, litter pollution on our beaches is a scourge and one that we all have a responsibility to tackle. One way that we can do that is to work with the Marine Conservation Society and take part in the Great British beach clean. I was delighted to take part in the beach clean on 21 September at Blackness beach in my Falkirk East constituency. It was great to see so many folk out surveying and clearing litter off the beach, which has so much importance in the area. Not only do many people from local communities enjoy the beach as a beauty spot, but it complements Blackness castle, which has become a huge tourist attraction as a result of its role as Fort William in the globally successful television series “Outlander”, and its part in the film “The Outlaw King”, which is about Robert the Bruce.

From those points alone, we can see the importance of keeping our shores litter free in helping to maintain our global reputation and sustain our local and national economies. However, there is much more to the issue than just the economic argument. It is vital to the future of our country and, indeed, the world to keep pollution out of our oceans and seas. The work of the MCS is vital to our understanding of litter and where it comes from and allows us to take forward our plans to tackle the problem. The most important element of the Great British beach clean is that every volunteer is contributing to a scientific survey that feeds information to Governments across the world. That information is crucial to the leaders of the world in coming together to tackle those environmental issues. Clearly, plastic and other pollution in our seas and oceans does not recognise intercontinental boundaries and borders.

In our local beach clean-up at Blackness, the 27 volunteers who came along collected a total of 13kg of litter from a 100m by 2m strip of the beach. Of that, nearly 36 per cent was plastic or polystyrene; around 33 per cent was sanitary waste; almost 19 per cent was glass; and the rest was made up of other materials. I was going to touch on the issue of cigarette butts on our beaches, but that has been mentioned by Maurice Corry and Kenny Gibson.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. The Great British beach clean has been around for 26 years and one positive outcome is that more and more people are becoming involved and therefore aware of the impact of litter on our seas and on the wider environment and willing to take action to do something about it.

There is clearly much more to say than I have time for, as usual. However, in closing, I thank members of the MCS, including Calum Duncan, the head of conservation, and, in particular, Catherine Gemmell, the conservation officer for Scotland, and her team of local volunteers in the Falkirk East constituency for their work in making the beach cleans in the area the successes that they are. I look forward to working with them all again at some point in the not-too-distant future.


I, too, congratulate Maurice Corry on securing debating time for this subject because, as he will be aware, my constituency has an abundance of beautiful beaches. Some are small and secluded and are frequented only occasionally, perhaps by a lone kayaker; and others are large and attract many people from across the country during the summer months, when you cannot see the beach for the sunbathers, and during the winter months, when only the braver among us will go for a bracing walk. We are blessed with a truly stunning coastline. In my opinion, there is nothing better than being able to enjoy the great outdoors. That is especially the case for those who are lucky enough to live in my local area, where we are blessed with not only stunning coastline, but freshwater lochs and inland sea lochs right on our doorstep.

It is, therefore, disappointing to see those beaches not being treated with the respect that our natural environment needs and deserves. I was saddened to learn from the research on the 2018 beachwatch project that beach litter in Scotland had gone up by 14 per cent in just one year. The effect that that has on local marine life is, quite frankly, disastrous, and the situation will only get worse if we do not act fast.

I will repeat an example that Kenny Gibson gave, because I was struck by it. A recent study found that 90 per cent of fulmars—a common seabird that is based around the North Sea—had plastic in their stomachs. In Scotland, the 2018 great British beach clean resulted in an incredible 75,000 pieces of litter being picked up—well done to the person who counted them. Some of that is down to people not cleaning away their litter when they leave the beach, but rubbish is also washed up from the sea. Therefore, a concerted effort by us all to recycle more and to reduce the use of unsustainable containers, such as those made of single-use plastic, can help to address the problems that are faced by our beautiful beaches.

Like others, I will be slightly parochial and thank those who volunteer in my local area. The Group for Recycling in Argyll and Bute Trust and staff and volunteers from the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park have run fantastic beach cleans in Arrochar. I will also pay tribute to Maurice Corry for doing his bit, too. Those events have boasted an impressive turnout from local volunteers and have resulted in great improvements to our local beaches. Marine Scotland, which is running a pilot to address litter sinks and which does important work in my area, estimates that around 62,000 pieces of litter are washed up on Arrochar’s beaches every year.

I also mention Helensburgh community council, which does beach cleans in its area, and the friends of Dumbarton foreshore group, along with people involved with the plastic-free Dumbarton campaign, who work tirelessly in all conditions to ensure that our beaches are a pleasant environment for us all. Last year, West Dunbartonshire Council helped the group with an uplift of more than 200 bags of rubbish. As well as the countless empty cans and crisp packets that were collected during one of its events, the group had the unique experience of finding a 100-year-old coin, a prosthetic limb—they were grateful it was not a real one—and the body of a 4ft python.

All those groups, whatever they are picking up, work tirelessly to ensure that our beaches are clean and enjoyable places for us to visit and are a safe environment for the varied local marine life. The September beach clean in Arrochar collected an astonishing 40kg of litter.

Many of the groups, as well as doing the beach cleans, also run educational programmes to teach younger generations about the importance of protecting and taking care of our local beaches. However, having seen the valiant efforts that young people in this country and around the world have made in relation to climate change, I think that they should perhaps be the ones teaching us.

As we look forward to the year of coasts and waters in 2020, I encourage all my colleagues from across the chamber to help protect our beautiful natural environment in order to save local wildlife and keep our beaches and coasts looking beautiful.


I too congratulate Maurice Corry on securing the debate.

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining local residents at Forvie national nature reserve in the quite tropical sunshine to undertake our beach clean. It was organised by Scottish Natural Heritage staff from the Forvie reserve station. Young children, elderly members of the community and others all met with the common purpose of tackling the tide of plastic pollution that gets washed up on the shore of Newburgh beach and the Forvie reserve. I thank all the volunteers who joined me that Sunday.

The beach is home to sandy dunes with Marram grass, which catches a lot of the litter, oyster-catchers, eider duck and more than 2,000 grey seals, which haul out there and for which I am proud to be the Scottish Environment LINK species champion. They are all threatened by the wave of litter that is in our seas and on our beaches.

The vast majority of litter that I picked up that day tells a story. I picked up an awful lot of fishing gear, including the plastic rope and netting that can entangle seals and cetaceans. The carcase of a seal was washed up on the beach and it was entangled in something, which is absolutely tragic. I also picked up a huge number of very small plastic fragments, of the size that is very dangerous. As other members have mentioned, the plastic is swallowed by sea birds and fish and it enters the food chain. The plastic pieces can also kill fish, birds and marine mammals. The global crisis in biodiversity is as serious as that of climate change, and plastic pollution is a major cause of reduction in the numbers of marine species.

Members have been talking about the bizarre things that they found on their beach cleans. At our beach clean, one young boy found a crisp packet and we were struck when we found out that it was 23 years old. That means that a person finding it inconvenient to put their rubbish in the bin all those years ago resulted in the packet being left to lie on our shores for a couple of decades. If it had not been found by the young boy, it would probably have stayed there untouched for many more decades.

That reminded me of the legacy that we leave for younger generations. I firmly believe that, on this incredibly important issue, we need to be the change that we wish to see in the world. Over the summer, aside from taking part in beach cleans, I have launched a little local campaign of my own, called the take5 campaign. It urges people when they go for a walk—perhaps with their dog—to pick up just five pieces of litter and take them home to recycle or put in their domestic bins. Whether people are off on a day at the beach, taking a stroll, or just making a trip to the local supermarket, if they have a little reusable bag in their pocket, it does not take much to pick up five pieces of litter. I am taking the campaign round the schools in my constituency and urging young people to do that, too.

I thank the Marine Conservation Society for its work on the beach cleans. As members have mentioned, 319 tonnes of litter have been picked up from beaches across the whole of the UK—that will make an incredible difference to the wildlife on our beaches.

For anyone who enjoyed our morning on the estuary, I say get back out there—perhaps this weekend—because last week’s heavy rain has meant that a tremendous amount of rubbish has been washed up on the beaches that we cleaned so comprehensively a couple of weeks ago. It is an on-going issue.

I will leave people with the following little mantra: take a wee walk, take a wee bag and take five pieces of litter home. Imagine if we all did that; what a difference it would make.


I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate and I thank Maurice Corry for bringing the debate to Parliament this afternoon. Like colleagues, I have taken part in many beach cleans, which have been organised by the MCS, and I know how immensely rewarding it is for people to feel that they have helped to restore their local beach to its natural beauty.

As we have heard, the Marine Conservation Society and volunteers have picked up 319 tonnes of litter at beach cleans across Scotland and England this year. That figure is shocking, although it also reveals the dedication and enthusiasm of those who get out there and help to clean our beaches. That litter should not be there in the first place. What we see washing up on our beaches is the tip of the iceberg. It tells us how healthy our oceans and seas are—or in this case, how unhealthy they are.

We are always talking about protecting our green belts in Scotland—rightly so—but we need to have the same focus on our blue belts. We have vast swathes of water that stretch over our planet. Our oceans are home to complex ecosystems and all manner of organisms but they, and our shores, are being neglected and degraded.

In 2007, I became aware of the work of Rebecca Hosking, a former BBC filmmaker, who was behind the ban on plastic bags in Modbury, a little town in Devon. The reason that that came about was because Hosking had photographed, on an island—far out in the Pacific—birds and sea-life that had been killed by plastic. We have all seen those horrendous images: birds’ stomachs filled with plastic bags, toys, pens and toothbrushes, while their chicks starved to death. There were horrible cases of birds feeding their chicks plastic. It made a great impression on her, on me and on many other people.

That same year, in 2007, I was elected to the City of Edinburgh Council and one of the first motions I suggested was for Edinburgh to become the first plastic bag-free city in the UK. It is fair to say that the motion was not dismissed outright, but some people clearly thought that I was going far too far. Time has moved on: we are seeing real progress and there is now a general consensus that we must do more. In Modbury, local action made the difference—43 local businesses decided that they were just not going to use plastic bags and were not going to sell them, saying, “ We’re not having them here.” That is the kind of action that we need to roll out across Scotland and beyond.

There is no disagreement now that plastic is bad for our oceans, bad for our marine life and bad for our beaches. Behavioural change is an important part of what is needed. We must all stop littering. Where do we think that we are putting this stuff? There is no “away”.

In the beach cleans that I have been part of, the things that we have found have included cotton buds, sanitary waste and items that are sold as being flushable. The messaging around what is being flushed into our oceans is misleading. Last November, the BBC reported that all wet wipes sold as flushable in the UK have so far failed the water industry’s disintegration tests. They should not be going anywhere near the loo. Those wipes also cause up to 80 per cent of blockages in our sewers and are a key component of fatbergs. Those products are being pumped into our oceans and are littering our shorelines.

There needs to be more collective responsibility. As members may be aware, there are currently five ocean gyres, which collect plastic waste and other rubbish. The gyre in the North Pacific Ocean is sometimes called the great Pacific garbage patch. However, it is far bigger than a patch: it is like a floating municipal dump. It is massive. Members should go online and look at it—they will be horrified.

Cruise ships are an issue. In my region of Lothian, palm oil bergs have washed up in Leith and on Portobello beach. They are thought to have been dumped by cruise and cargo ships. There is sheer thoughtlessness going on. I have to ask: why are businesses allowed to produce materials that are not recyclable or biodegradable, but which simply damage our planet and our local communities? SEPA warned that some of the fatbergs could be poisonous to dogs. Our careless attitude towards our oceans cannot continue. If we keep dumping waste into our oceans, sooner or later it will wash up at our feet.

Like Angus MacDonald, I, too, thank Catherine Gemmell, Calum Duncan and the MCS. I thank each and every person in Scotland who gets out there in their own time to help clean up our local environment.

I call Mairi Gougeon to close and respond to the debate.


I welcome the Marine Conservation Society to the gallery to listen to the debate. I thank Maurice Corry for securing the debate and for recognising an important event. I also thank the Marine Conservation Society for the huge amount of work that it does—day in, day out—to clean up our seas. I am sorry that we did not get the chance to hold the debate prior to the Great British beach clean weekend, so that we could have encouraged more MSPs to take part—although I know that many did.

We should not underestimate the scale of the problem and the effects on our environment and wildlife. That point was made very well and passionately by Alison Johnstone. Kenny Gibson and Jackie Baillie talked about the fact that 90 per cent of fulmars have plastic in their stomachs, which is absolutely shocking. We must do everything that we can to tackle the problem, which will not be easy.

The Marine Conservation Society is absolutely instrumental to that work. Its support has grown year on year, as more people volunteer their time to pick rubbish off our beaches. This year was no exception, with the 26th Great British beach clean taking place two weeks ago. I like Maurice Corry’s suggestion that we use the fact that next year is the year of coasts and waters as a focus to get more volunteers than ever to take part.

We have the best beaches in the world, and we all have a part to play in cleaning them and keeping them that way. It has been fantastic to hear about the activities of individual members and the work that is taking place all over Scotland. Finlay Carson mentioned the DG Eco Warriors in his constituency, and Angus MacDonald talked about his local events, such as the clean-up at Blackness castle. He said that we do not have the weather to match our beaches, so he has clearly never visited the tropic of Montrose—I am happy to invite him. Jackie Baillie mentioned the plastic-free Dumbarton campaign. I fully support Gillian Martin’s initiative to pick up five pieces of litter every time that we are out and about, which is such an easy, simple and effective thing to do. However, as Alison Johnstone highlighted, we can always do more.

I could not speak in the debate without talking about some of the work that has been happening in my constituency. Several cleans were organised as part of the Angus coastal festival, and they took place on the beaches at St Cyrus, Montrose, Ferryden, Scurdie Ness, Lunan Bay and West Sands.

I am glad that Angus MacDonald and Alison Johnstone mentioned Catherine Gemmell from the Marine Conservation Society, who is the driving force behind its campaigns and a big champion of its work. I add my thanks to her.

All that work goes on alongside the regular cleans that are done by local community groups that are taking action to clean up our coastline. On Sunday, I joined Montrose Bay community group, which holds regular sessions at the beach front. Its big focus is now on cigarette butts; a few members mentioned the massive problem that they pose. There is also the Johnshaven sharks, whose aim is to improve the environment; beach cleans are organised as part of that work.

I turn to the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to tackle the issue. We know that plastic is the main material that washes up on our beaches, and that is why we are taking action now. We are challenging Scotland’s throwaway culture and using a variety of means to develop an ethos of sustainability, with additional measures proposed in the new circular economy bill, which will be open to consultation soon.

Our new deposit return scheme, which Maurice Corry and Finlay Carson mentioned, is the first national scheme of that type in the UK, and we aim to deliver it by 2021. We are the first nation to develop a scheme design, and we are proud that it is ambitious and includes a broad range of materials, with a target return rate of 90 per cent. The benefits of the scheme will include increased recycling rates and reductions in carbon emissions, as well as a reduction in litter.

The proposals for the circular economy bill will enable charges to be applied in relation to the provision of some of the most damaging items, such as single-use cups, which generate 4,000 tonnes of waste every year in Scotland. We have committed to banning more problematic single-use plastic items such as cutlery, plates and food and drink containers that are made of expanded polystyrene by 2021, and to meeting or exceeding the standards that have been set out in the European Union single-use plastics directive. We are also working to reform the extended producer responsibility system for packaging. We have already introduced legislation on one of the products that is identified in the directive. The ban on the manufacture and sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds will come into force on 12 October, ahead of the ban in the rest of the UK.

Litter, which has been raised a number of times, is a massive part of the problem. Our national litter strategy sets out the framework to reduce littering, which can make its way into our waters. The strategy is being refreshed to ensure that it offers effective guidance to deliver litter prevention on the ground. We recognise that additional measures to deter littering are required. Such measures will include a new penalty regime in the circular economy bill for littering from a vehicle. We will hold the registered keeper ultimately responsible for litter that is dropped from their vehicle.

We have a marine litter strategy with more than 40 actions to reduce litter sources, promote behaviour change, improve monitoring and promote international working. It includes the support of five local coastal partnerships that deliver marine litter education and organise clean-ups.

Recently I joined my local partnership, East Grampian Coastal Partnership, as it trialled a new approach with a beach clean just north of Stonehaven. It was a real team effort. The Stonehaven Sea Safari took us to a beach that is hard to access for clean-ups, and the local RNLI lifeboat crew also took part and removed the collected rubbish. I thank Crawford Paris for the work that he and the partnership do, because they do a power of work to clean up our coastline in the north-east, and they also work with many local schools.

The marine litter problem is so important that we have committed to additional work through successive programmes for government. We delivered an international marine conference in February that was attended by the industry, scientists, officials, community representatives, young people and people from around the globe. It provided a platform to discuss and share information and to develop solutions for problems as varied as nurdles and marine industry waste. It also gave us an opportunity to talk about sewage-related debris.

At the conference, we announced our plans to encourage people to move from single-use plastic sanitary products to reusable options. The campaign is due to start next month and will support the reduction of waste and help to address social inequalities that are associated with period poverty.

We have also supported Water UK to develop a fine to flush standard for wet wipes, which will specify that those products should not contain plastic and must easily disintegrate. We encourage manufacturers to follow that lead.

We are committed to action on litter sink areas. We funded Scrapbook, which is managed by the Moray Firth Partnership and has mapped the Scottish mainland coastline using aerial photographs taken by the charity Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol. The project has facilitated clean-ups by signposting volunteers to areas that are most in need and by providing hands-on staff in remote locations.

We also pledge to support our coastal and fishing communities to tackle marine litter. Gillian Martin talked about the problem of fishing gear and the threat that it can pose to seals and crustaceans. We continue to support KIMO’s Fishing for Litter scheme, which has grown and now involves more than 300 vessels in 20 ports and has removed 1,400 tonnes of litter since it began in 2005.

Marine litter is a global problem that requires international solutions. We work with other OSPAR convention contracting countries in the north-east Atlantic to find solutions for shared problems. Together, we are considering how to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for fishing gear, and how to implement the port reception facilities directive to support better waste management in our fishing industry. We also encourage responsible gear disposal through the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

I have outlined the extraordinary amount of work that is under way or planned. I am absolutely passionate about the issues and I am committed to tackling them, whether by removing plastics and other waste from our seas or by preventing the waste from getting there in the first place. The Great British beach clean reminds us just how important the removal element is and that it is possible only with partnership working. Government has a role to lead, but we can tackle the problem only by everybody getting involved. I thank the Marine Conservation Society for leading on the issue and being a force for positive action.

Gosh! I lost count of the number of “alsos”. That concludes the debate.

13:33 Meeting suspended.  

14:00 On resuming—