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Campaign seeks to end single use plastic

Plastic found in the stomach of a fulmar. Photo courtesy of KIMO.

A LOCAL politician and shop owner is calling for local shops to stop selling plastic straws and cups, and has launched a campaign he hopes will ultimately eradicate all single-use plastic from Shetland.

Ryan Thomson, who as an SIC councillor chairs the local authority’s environment and transport committee, has committed his Tagon Stores business in Voe to stop selling plastic cups and plastic straws and has already got five other local shops, from Bigton to Unst, on board.

The western world’s excessive use of plastic has been under the microscope like never before in the wake of an episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and the Netflix documentary A Plastic Ocean.

Shortly before Christmas, Ullapool became Scotland’s first village to ban plastic straws and Thomson – who welcomed that initiative, spearheaded by the village’s schoolchildren – now wants to see Shetland go a few steps further.

To get the campaign started, he is writing to all businesses in the islands asking them to only sell biodegradable straws and cups. So far, the Bigton Shop, the Final Checkout in Unst, HillShop in Yell, Mackenzie’s Farm Shop and Café in Cunningsburgh and the Hillswick Shop have signed up.

He said it would be a big boost if the campaign could get wholesalers J.W. Gray, Hughson Brothers and Freezer Foods on board.

“I absolutely recognise that straws, to many people, are an absolute necessity,” he said. “However, there are many biodegradable alternatives with no price difference to businesses or customers.”

Councillor and Tagon Stores owner Ryan Thomson is behind the campaign.

Thomson said he had already found cheaper biodegradable alternative straws online and is confident the group can win Shetland-wide support for the measure “in the very near future” – before deciding what the campaign’s next move might be.

“Harmful chemicals from plastics are present in bloodstreams and tissues of almost every single one of us, including newborns,” he said. “This is something we must eradicate, and I want Shetland to lead the way.

“One plastic straw takes around 200 years to decompose (although leaves chemical traces behind), yet statistics prove that the majority are used only once, and only for a matter of minutes. The UK disposed of around 100 million plastic straws and cups over the festive period.

“The pledge is easy, cost and hassle-free for all businesses. Shetland can lead the way and be the first place in the UK to initially stop selling plastic straws and cups, eventually stopping the use of single-use plastics entirely.”

Many people have already expressed an interest in getting involved and he can see the campaign “growing arms and legs very, very quickly”.

Thomson acknowledges that it will take “a significant shift in mentality to get every single-use plastic stopped, but that’s without a shadow of a doubt the target”.

“If we can get some sort of group together and decide what the next step forward is, I would like to use the straws and cups as the foundation,” he said, with coffee cups in cafes and the mountains of unnecessary supermarket packaging among numerous possibilities.

“I despair when I see fruit and veg covered in plastic wrapping – it’s just absolutely ridiculous.”

Some locally have highlighted that the Anderson High School uses plastic cutlery in its canteen. Thomson said that was “something that’s just been brought to my attention” and he would be looking into it, but more generally he hopes the SIC will “look at any way that we can cut back” on plastic waste.

There is a wealth of evidence highlighting how plastics are bad not only for the planet but also for land mammals and marine creatures. Scientists have also expressed concern about the potential health risks for humans who absorb microplastics into their system by eating seafood.

European local authorities’ environmental group KIMO has been running its Fishing for Litter initiative, aimed at eliminating waste from the Northern Seas, since around 2000 – with over 200 fishing boats in Shetland and Scotland signed up.