SCOTLAND'S beaches have become pollution hotspots for plastic cotton bud sticks that are flushed down toilets and it is claimed are killing wildlife.

The growing tide of the plastic-cased cleaners washing onto the shore has prompted campaigners to call for ban on the sale of the buds.

Beach cleans by the Marine Conservation Society have found that the average number found per 100 metres has soared from around nine in the 2011 and 2012 events to 31 in the 2016 and 2017 campaigns.

The typical number found in the last two years is more than double that found in the previous two years of beach cleans and is higher than the UK average.

And the society says the number of buds found on Scottish beaches is higher than the UK average of 26.

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Scottish environmental charity Fidra has worked to encourage the industry to switch to paper sticks while several major retail chains have committed to stocking them by the end of 2017.

Fidra say the buds have been found in the digestive systems of seabirds and turtles, and in some cases have been directly responsible for their deaths, through internal damage.

Alasdair Neilson, project manager of the Cotton Bud Project, said the government must legislate to help move towards manufacturing the products with biodegradable stems.

“We believe legislation would mean seeing plastic cotton buds on beaches would be a thing of the past,” he said.

“There are still some larger retailers and many smaller ones who have not made the commitment, so it is still a problem."

Toiletries giant Johnson & Johnson committed to stopping its production of plastic cotton bud sticks by the end of 2016 UK retailers such as Marks and Spencers, John Lewis and The Body Shop currently sell retail paper stem cotton buds.

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Fidra says efforts to to encourage people to stop flushing plastic stemmed cotton buds down the toilet have not had long-term success.

Paper sticks are more likely to settle out of the sewage before even reaching the sea and will biodegrade relatively quickly if they do end up in the ocean.

“We want all retailers to make the change to fully-biodegradable-stemmed cotton buds,” said Mr Neilson.

“While progress has been made, plastic cotton buds are still on the shelves and on our beaches. "Further action is needed to end plastic cotton bud pollution.

“France will be bringing in a ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds from January 1, 2020. "We would urge the Scottish Government to also take this strong stance. Any ban needs to be carefully considered so it results in truly biodegradable alternatives.”

The Cotton Bud Project, based in East Lothian, says the breakdown of the plastic itself can lead to the release of toxic components including chemicals used to dye or coat the plastic.

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Source: Fidra

They say not only do these present a danger to living organisms in the coastal and marine environments, they also present a health risk to the public through physical contact on recreational beaches and associated bathing waters.

The buds pose a danger to marine life having been found in the stomachs of dead fulmars and loggerhead turtles.

The long-thin structure of buds can cause damage, made worse when broken into smaller sharp and pointed fragments.

They say one of the issues is that paper buds are often more expensive in the shops and are usually marketed as a premium product, so some companies are reluctant to change and have suggested prices of buds might have to go up.

But the charity believes the price of paper buds will go down as demand increases and said legislation should ensure those retailers who have changed are supported.

On one Scottish coastline last year, 13,500 of these sticks were found by Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch volunteers in a single visit.

“Not only do they look bad, they also mark the trail of sewage from bathroom to beach, indicating a potential public health risk,” said the charity.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise the severity of the marine plastics problem, which is why our Programme for Government puts forward a range of actions on the issue. We are also working with partners, including Fidra, to take forward our Marine Litter Strategy.

“On the issue of cotton buds, we are considering the options to address this problem. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure help safeguard Scotland’s stunning seas and coastline, which is why we urge people responsibly dispose of cotton buds.”

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Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium said: “The retail industry is committed to long-term action to protect the environment.

"Earlier this year, ten high street retailers committed to switch from plastic cotton bud stems to paper by the end of 2017 for own-brand products, in addition to M&S, the Body Shop, the Co-op and Waitrose who already use paper stems for own brand cotton bud stems.

"It is estimated that the actions taken by the ten high street retailers will remove over two billion plastic cotton bud stems from the market each year.”