SCOTLAND is set to be the first part of the UK to ban the sale and manufacture of plastic cotton buds as part of moves to tackle marine litter.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced plans to bring in legislation to outlaw the items which frequently wash up on beaches because many wrongly believe they can be flushed down the toilet safely.

The Scottish Government yesterday announced it will publish a consultation on the proposals over the next few weeks to stop firms producing the plastic-stemmed buds and prevent retailers from selling them.

Cunningham said banning the items would be a clear sign of the Scottish Government’s ambition to help combat the damage caused by plastics in the ocean.

“Despite various campaigns, people are continuing to flush litter down their toilets,” she said.

Scotland’s sewerage infrastructure collects and treats some 945 million litres of waste water each day. These systems are not designed to remove small plastic items such as plastic buds, which can kill marine animals and birds that swallow them.

“These products are completely unnecessary as biodegradable alternatives are readily available.

“The need for action is clear and I would encourage everyone with an interest in safeguarding our natural environment to take part in the consultation when it opens.”

Proposals to ban the items were yesterday welcomed by environmental groups, saying it could help halve marine plastic pollution.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “This decisive action is great news for the environment and for wildlife. Cotton buds are a very visible sign of our hugely wasteful habits, turning up on beaches across the globe.

“Manufacturers and supermarkets are already moving in the right direction but this single measure will guarantee that Scotland cuts its contribution to marine plastic pollution in half.

“Following the plastic bag charge and the announcement of a deposit and return scheme for drinks’ bottles and cans, this is another good step on the way to a society which uses resources more sensibly.

“We look forward to further initiatives when the Government’s promised new group on single-use plastic containers, such as coffee cups, reports its work.”

Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF, said: “Cotton buds are some of the most pervasive forms of marine pollution so a ban is very welcome and a step in the right direction.

“We know plastic is suffocating our seas and devastating our wildlife, with millions of birds, fish and mammals dying each year because of the plastic in our oceans.

“Plastics are also finding their way into the food we eat and the water we drink, so saving our oceans will require further ambitious action from governments, industry and consumers.”

Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said the plans to ban plastic cotton buds did not go far enough when it came to tackling pollution caused by the petrochemicals industry.

He pointed out that earlier this week a chemical engineering academic suggested redundant oil and gas platforms in the North Sea should be left in position rather than removed and underlined Scottish Government support for the oil industry.

“The Scottish Government wants to highlight the issue of cotton buds, though that’s an area where change is already happening with alternative products already in the shops,” he said.

“By talking about this issue merely as litter, the Government risks implying that it’s all about consumer behaviour, instead of placing responsibility where it belongs, with the highly profitable businesses which are the source of the problem.

“Plastic pollution is utterly connected to our economic addiction to oil and gas. Fossil fuels and industrial chemicals are two sides of the same coin.

“Both the UK and Scottish governments like to claim credit for environmental action, but they both want ever bigger tax breaks for the very companies that are at the root of the environmental crisis.

“The First Minister claimed to want to lead by example but isn’t it time to recognise that we can no longer invest our future in the fossil fuel industry, and that we instead embrace the positive fossil-free future that Scotland can have?”

The Marine Conservation Society warned that people flushing away bathroom waste have contributed to a surge in litter appearing on Scottish beaches.

It found an average of 500 pieces of litter, including plastics and sanitary items, can now be found strewn over every 100 yards of beaches.