Edinburgh City Council's plans to phase out glyphosate have been praised by a vegetation management contractor that has taken a lead in integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. The decision was made by the council's transport and environment committee on 27 October in a motion tabled by Green councillor Chas Booth.
Booth said he took action after being contacted by concerned constituents following the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) March 2015 report finding that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic". He called for an alternative weed-control strategy to be found that both works and is cost-effective.
The committee agreed officers would undertake at least two pilots to trial alternative strategies and present a report within 12 months with options and costs for alternatives. Edinburgh will then phase out glyphosate if a good alternative is found. Council officers currently use around 4,700 litres of herbicides - mainly glyphosate - each year, but have already been looking at other options.
Languard managing director Will Kay commended the council's move. "By ensuring they are using pesticides responsibly and looking at alternatives they are doing exactly what is required of them by the Sustainable Use Directive (SUD)," he said. "More councils across the country should be actively encouraged to follow this lead and create integrated management plans."
However, Kay questioned why the council was singling out glyphosate and seeking to phase it out completely when the IARC report contradicts previous conclusions from the World Health Organisation, European bodies, and the UK's own Chemicals Regulation Directorate.
The European Food Safety Authority has also just finalised its reassessment of glyphosate and concluded it is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans".
Kay added: "It is also worth noting that since its formation in 1965 IARC has only found one substance that it considers is not carcinogenic." He called for an evidence-based approach and for the council to consider an IPM approach, which is a requirement of the SUD and is often cheaper.
"Integrated control may not involve any new methods at all, simply coordinating existing practices such as sweeping to improve levels of control and reduce herbicide use." Edinburgh's apparent high use of the glyphosate may be reduced by better targeting, improved training and using adjuvants, he added.
Thanet - Contractor worked on alternative weed-control options
Languard was the contractor involved in the five-year Thanet project that looked at options for integrated and non-chemical weed control. The conclusions were published by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate in 2014. Languard managing director Will Kay called for Edinburgh to look at this report and its conclusions before investing further resources in duplicating it.
Since the late 1980s Languard has used alternative methods of control including hot water, steam, burning, brushing, infrared heat and, most recently, hot foam. "In all cases the disadvantages of alternatives to pesticides have been; effectiveness, time taken to carry out the operation, increased carbon footprint due to higher energy inputs and most importantly cost," said Kay. "There is no doubt in our minds that the very best alternative that we have used is hot foam. However, used in isolation this has increased the cost of the operation 10 times."