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22 Mar 2024 < Back

Councils Reversing Glyphosate Bans: Balancing Safety, Sustainability, and Community Concerns

In recent years, several councils across the UK have taken bold steps to "weed out" the use of glyphosate, reacting to public pressure and citing concerns over its safety as a possible carcinogenic. However, as reports of overgrowing weeds and safety hazards mount, some councils are now reconsidering these bans, opting to reintroduce glyphosate-based weed control methods.

Brighton and Hove initiate U-Turn

Brighton and Hove City Council, was amongst the first to enact a glyphosate ban in 2019 and has faced significant challenges since then. Council leader Bella Sankey acknowledges the chaos caused by uncontrolled weed growth, leading to unsafe pavements. Despite exhaustive efforts to explore alternatives, including manual weeding and community engagement, the council found no effective substitute for glyphosate. Instead, they propose a “controlled droplet method” reduces the concentration of glyphosate and minimises environmental biodiversity impacts.

Similarly, Cambridgeshire County Council, prompted by overwhelming complaints and safety concerns, reversed its glyphosate ban after just one year of implementation. The decision, fuelled by reports of damaged infrastructure and public dissatisfaction, reflects a broader shift in understanding the practical challenges of weed management without glyphosate. Simon Bywater, a county councillor, criticised the initial ban as short-sighted, emphasising the need for balanced decision-making considering both budgetary concerns and public safety.

The reconsideration of glyphosate bans also aligns with recent research findings. A study conducted by an independent research consultancy, in collaboration with Cardiff City Council and PCA member, Complete Weed Control, concluded that glyphosate remains the most effective and sustainable weed control method available. The study compared glyphosate with alternative eco-friendly methods and found glyphosate to have a smaller environmental footprint, lower cost, and higher customer satisfaction. These findings underscore that “going green” for the sake of it doesn’t always provide the best results.

The public eye

The reversal of glyphosate bans by councils reflects a previously underestimated understanding of the challenges involved in weed management.  Environmental advocacy groups and concerned citizens have played a pivotal role in raising awareness about the potential risks associated with glyphosate use. Their campaigns have spurred public debate and put pressure on policymakers to reassess glyphosate regulations to enforce widespread bans. While their intentions are noble, it is essential to ensure that policy decisions are based on a collective of scientific evidence and comprehensive risk assessments, rather than emotive appeals backed by a single study produced by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), suggesting that glyphosate is a possible carcinogenic yet no more than alcohol or processed meats. These critics also argue that glyphosate poses health risks and harms wildlife, advocating for stricter regulations or outright bans. Yet, regulatory bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Union (EU), and the UK Health and Safety Executive consider glyphosate safe when used properly by competent, trained professionals. Even Cancer Research UK has a very clear message on their website which states “Low levels of pesticides and herbicides in food or used when gardening don’t cause cancer.”

Integrated “weed” management

As drawstring budget councils navigate complex issues, the role of integrated weed management (IWM) emerges as crucial. IWM emphasises the judicious use of herbicides alongside non-chemical methods to achieve effective weed control while minimising environmental impact but maintaining customer satisfaction standards. By adopting a holistic approach to weed management, councils can address safety concerns, promote sustainability, and meet their duty of care to residents.

Can Glyphosate bans affect invasive weed control?

This question undoubtedly weighs heavily on the minds of many contractors as discussions about widespread bans intensify. In my view, while the ban on glyphosate will undoubtedly impact everyone involved in invasive weed control, I don't believe it will be to the extent of being detrimental. Currently, glyphosate serves as the primary "cure" within invasive weed management strategies and performs quite effectively. However, removing glyphosate doesn't eliminate the problem of invasive weeds; rather, it necessitates adaptation and the exploration of new, cost-effective remediation methods."

More to come?

In summary, the debate over glyphosate reflects the inherent challenges of balancing competing interests and priorities in environmental policy-making. While concerns over glyphosate's safety and environmental impact are legitimate, they must be weighed against the practical considerations of weed management and the economic implications of glyphosate bans.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any comprehensive solution which can ensure all parties involved are satisfied. Banning glyphosate shouldn’t be used as tool to gain a few extra votes during election time but we should be fostering dialogue, engaging with organisations like the Invasive Weed Control Group or the Amenity Forum, and embracing evidence-based decision-making. Only then can councils can navigate this complex terrain and implement policies that promote safety, sustainability, and community well-being without the fear of drastic and almost embarrassing U-turns.

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