Weed control and glyphosate

Green environment spokesperson Cllr CHAS BOOTH asks whether it is time for the city to end the use of glyphosate. 

The condition of our streets matters to a lot of people in the city.  People feel dismayed if they see streets where weeds are sprouting from every crack in the pavement and from walls: it speaks of neglect and carelessness and may, it is feared, lead on to other problems of dog-fouling, litter and graffiti.

But how we deal with weeds in cities is increasingly under scrutiny.  That is why, when I was contacted by constituents who were concerned about recent reports on the safety of glyphosate, a herbicide which is commonly used in weed control, I thought it important to take action.

The council uses just under 5,000 litres of herbicide each year.  But many other cities and authorities around the world have found effective alternatives, such as saline or hot water treatment.

That’s what my motion to the City Council’s environment committee on 27 October seeks to do: to ensure that we try to identify effective and cost-effective alternatives to glyphosate, and, if we identify an alternative, that we use it. The full text of my motion is below. I hope that my fellow committee members agree with this proposed approach.

This committee notes: 

  1. That earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”;
  2. That several countries, including Holland, Denmark and Sweden, have banned or restricted the use of glyphosate by local authorities and that some cities, including Chicago and Paris, have voluntarily made their public spaces glyphosate-free;
  3. That glyphosate forms the basis of herbicides used by the Council to control weed growth on streets and in parks and green spaces, and that around 4,700 litres of herbicide are applied by the council each year;
  4. That council officers are already investigating alternatives to the use of glyphosate;

This committee believes that:

5.  Where substantial evidence of the negative impact of chemicals on human health and the wider environment exists, the council should pursue the precautionary principle and should seek to utilise other weed control methods where evidence of such negative impacts does not exist;

This committee therefore agrees:

6. To continue to investigate alternatives to the use of glyphosate for weed control and undertake at least two pilots to trial alternative weed control strategies, presenting a report to committee within twelve months with options and costs of alternative weed control methods.

7. To phase out the use of glyphosate by the council as soon as an effective and cost-effective alternative weed control strategy has been identified