I have been working with local campaigners and council officers to make Tower Hamlets the first borough in the country to ban the harmful weed killer glyphosate from regular use.
Background on glyphosate
Glyphosate is a particularly effective weed killer which is the primary active ingredient in herbicides like RoundUp, sold the world over to farmers, businesses, consumers and land managers like local authorities. Its use by local authorities in the UK is ubiquitous. It is cheap, highly effective and easy to apply. What’s not to like? Well, quite a lot it turns out…
While there are ethical limitations to properly studying the consequences of glyphosate on humans, there are clear trends and links that can and should be considered by those who choose it as a ‘safe and effective’ method of weed removal.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled the chemical ‘probably carcinogenic’ in humans in 2015. Research across the world has linked the chemical to numerous health issues in humans such as lymphomas; interference with organs and biochemical pathways; imbalance in digestive system causing leaky gut; can build up in human cells and damage vital organs like liver, kidney and skin; infertility in men; pregnancy problems; birth defects; respiratory problems.
The impacts on humans is echoed by the serious impacts of the chemical on the natural world, for example contamination of water courses and the killing of plants along rivers and streams, thus destroying habitats for many species. It upsets the microbial balance in soil, leading to destruction of soil life which is how plants get their nutrients and therefore how we as humans survive.
There are many more concerns relating to glyphosate but I don’t want this to become boring!
How is glyphosate used in Tower Hamlets?
In 2019, council officers in the Green Team undertook a review of the herbicide with a view to reducing its use as much as possible. This review resulted in the banning of glyphosate from all parks in Tower Hamlets. This was a really significant step in the right direction.
However, the review concluded that glyphosate was still the best and most effective way to keep roads and pavements in Tower Hamlets free from weeds. Use of the chemical has been reduced to ‘just’ 110 litres per year.
Recent protest and campaign
I recently joined protestors (see image above) from a range of groups across Tower Hamlets for a protest at the Town Hall against the council’s continuing use of glyphosate. Campaigners presented a letter to the Mayor and Chief Executive calling on them to stop its use entirely.
After the protest, I reached out to the officer who wrote the 2019 review to discuss what my options might be to further this cause. The feedback was that the only method that presents a viable alternative to glyphosate for weed removal along highways and pavements was hand weeding or ‘cultural’ removal. This will unfortunately require hiring staff to do weed removal in a time of squeezed budgets.
I am in the process of setting up a meeting with the street cleansing team and environmental health team to find out what kind of budget would be needed to achieve a glyphosate-free borough. Once I have detailed information from officers, I will seek approval from the administration.