Scotland’s biggest anti-litter charity is under fire from campaigners over links to an industry lobbyist who described European Union moves to reduce the use of plastic bags as a “witch-hunt”.
Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) has been accused of being “in danger of becoming a creature of the packaging industry” for associating with the Clean Europe Network and its secretary-general, a lobbyist called Eamonn Bates.
KSB has denied the accusation and claimed that it holds manufacturers to account for their part in “our national litter shame”.
Public concern over plastic waste has grown after its dangers to marine wildlife were highlighted by naturalist David Attenborough on BBC television in 2017. But environmentalists have concerns about the role of the industry in impeding change.
The network is co-ordinated by Bates. His job description says he “assures the day-to-day management of the secretariat and of the affairs of the Clean Europe Network” and is the network’s “face” in Brussels.
Bates is an experienced European Union lobbyist and also runs his own firm called Eamonn Bates Europe Public Affairs.
In 2018, Bates’s clients included the Clean Europe Network, Serving Europe and Pack2Go Europe, as well as Shell and a US-based paper company.
Serving Europe is a trade association representing food and drink outlets like Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Häagen-Dazs.
Pack2Go Europe describes itself as “Europe’s convenience food packaging association” and represents companies like Amhill Europa – which makes plastic cups. Pack2Go Europe also describe Bates as their part-time secretary general.
In his Pack2Go Europe role, Bates accused the European Commission of holding a “witch-hunt” against plastic bags in 2011. This was in response to their plans to reduce the use of plastic bags and to make packaging more biodegradabale.
The Clean Europe Network, PackGoEurope, Serving Europe and Eamonn Bates Public Affairs all share a Brussels office address – 13-15 Avenue Livingstone – which is a five minute walk from the European Commission. The name on the door is Eamonn Bates Europe.
In June 2015, the Clean Europe Network wrote an expert opinion which argued that “shifting the financial burden of litter collection to producers misses the point entirely”.
An environmental group, a politician and a campaign group have criticised KSB’s links to the Clean Europe Network and the packaging and fast food industry.
Friends of the Earth Scotland questioned KSB’s environmental credibility. “Both KSB’s funding sources and the direct association with those opposing action on plastic call into question whether it can be trusted,” said director, Dr Richard Dixon.
“KSB is in danger of becoming a creature of the packaging industry, rather than a serious environmental group.”
Mark Ruskell MSP, Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, said: “Scotland really needs a credible, independent, anti-litter campaign, so it’s concerning that KSB’s chief executive continues to ally himself with corporate lobbyists representing the packaging and fast food industries.”
He added: “It’s frustrating because we could have had progressive measures like deposit return in place much sooner if it wasn’t for industry lobbying. I would hope that the Keep Scotland Beautiful board take time to reflect on the impact of Mr Robertson’s choice of alliances.”
“For years industry has been opposing real action to tackle the plastics crisis by trying to rebrand it as solely a litter problem and blaming consumers,” she said.
“Those tactics persist to this day and now that plastics are on the political agenda like never before, it is vital that we don’t allow industry to fob us off with litter collection and other voluntary initiatives.”
She added: “Instead we need robust binding rules to reduce our plastic use and to make sure that industry picks up its share of the full costs.”
For years industry has been opposing real action to tackle the plastics crisis by trying to rebrand it as solely a litter problem and blaming consumers. Vicky Cann, Corporate Europe Observatory
According to its website, the Clean Europe Network’s members include Clean Up Britain and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful but not Keep Britain Tidy or Keep Wales Tidy.
Pack2Go Europe is an associate member of the Clean Europe Network and gives around €3,000 a year towards its €30,000 budget. According to Bates, associate members take no part in the network’s decision-making.
Bates said: “The network has always publicly called for shared responsibility for litter and the prevention of littering and the application of more resources to this challenge, including through extended producer responsibility for litter prevention.”
He added: “The network welcomes the recent revision of the EU waste directives which constitute a breakthrough because the EU has established for the first time a joined up strategy for litter and the prevention of littering that must now be implemented by EU member countries by mid-2020.
“Awareness of the scourge of litter has never been higher in Europe and EU legislation will now ensure that everyone will play their role in addressing it, including but not limited to producers. Personally, I welcome this breakthrough.”
A spokesperson for KSB said: “We make no apology for holding manufacturers accountable for their part in providing the packaging that others casually discard so irresponsibly. We will continue to demand that corporate business, along with individuals, local and national government does more to tackle our national litter shame.”
Keep Scotland Beautiful and the deposit scheme
This is not the first time that the anti-litter charity, Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB), has run into controversy over its stance on tackling waste.
In 2015 the organisation was criticised by environmentalists for opposing the Scottish Government’s plan to cut litter by charging deposits on drinks containers.
The Sunday Herald reported that KSB had dismissed a deposit return scheme (DRS) as an “unhelpful distraction”. There was a “lack of evidence that it would deliver any significant reduction in litter”, it said.
In a submission to the government’s Zero Waste Scotland agency, KSB argued that the large-scale investment required would not be good value, and key stakeholders hadn’t been consulted. “A DRS is not the right solution to the litter problem in Scotland at this time,” KSB said.
In 2017 the drinks multinational, Coca-Cola, announced that it had decided to back Scotland’s proposed DRS. “The time is right to trial new interventions such as a well-designed deposit return scheme for drinks containers, starting in Scotland,” the company said.
Other drinks companies and supermarkets, however, have been trying to block DRS. The Ferret reported in January that Asda, A. G. Barr and Highland Spring had been lobbying leading politicians against the scheme.
Meanwhile, KSB has also shifted its position. It now says that it is “supportive” of the proposed DRS as issues it had raised had been addressed.
“After first calling for reverse vending technology in 2008, Keep Scotland Beautiful has been consistent in its view that a deposit-return scheme for Scotland has the potential to be a very positive development,” said a KSB spokesman.
“We have warmly welcomed recent announcements by the Scottish Government, whilst highlighting that the implementation details need to be right. For the last 18 months we have been supporting working groups on the subject of DRS with other environmental organisations, businesses and the Scottish Government.”
He added: “We have also consistently said that it is not the only mechanism needed to solve our nation’s litter problem. That requires a range of actions by all of us, not least of all a change in littering behaviour – a view we have held since our first statements on DRS.”
The Scottish Government announced on 8 May that following consultations there would be a deposit of 20p on glass, metal and some types of plastic drinks containers. Customers will get their deposits back when they return containers to recycling machines in shops.
Photos thanks to Keep Scotland Beautiful and the BBC. This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.