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Seòmar agus comataidhean

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills submission of 21 September 2021

PE1896/A – Provide every primary school child in Scotland with a reusable water bottle

I am responding to the Committee on behalf of the Scottish Government in relation to Petition PE1896 lodged by Callum Isted, which calls for reusable water bottles to be provided to all primary school children replacing the disposable water bottle provided with primary school lunches with a sustainable, reusable, metal bottle.

Firstly, I would like to pass on my congratulations to Callum on the work he has done so far in both walking the entire 134 miles of John Muir Way, and raising £1,400 to buy reusable water bottles for his school. I am very pleased to see the extraordinary commitment he has shown to demonstrate his support for the plan and his awareness of the benefits of reusing water bottles.

With regards to the provision of drinking water in schools, under the provisions of The Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020 free drinking water must be readily available for all children and young people throughout the school day.  I recognise it is most likely that children and young people in attendance will store their drinking water in bottles, even where the water comes from the mains supply.  The nutritional standards and the associated statutory guidance do not specify the way in which water should be provided.

Therefore it can be provided in a range of ways, for example, via water fountains, in jugs, or in bottled form.  That is a matter for individual education authorities to determine in light of their local circumstances, it would not be appropriate to assume that because the provision of bottled water is the practice in one school, that the same practice will be in place across the whole authority or country.

It should, however, be acknowledged that we are currently not operating in usual times, and that there remain in place mitigations in schools to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.  Education authorities and schools have been asked to undertake risk assessments and it may be that the use of bottled water is an appropriate measure in some schools, as a result of their risk assessments and circumstances, and also continuing to meet their statutory requirements.

The Scottish Government is committed to taking action on single-use plastic products, that is why we have notified the World Trade Organisation of our plans to ban some of the most problematic single use plastic products (expanded polystyrene beverage cups, expanded polystyrene food containers, single-use plastic beverage stirrers, plastic cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and plastic plates). We will be introducing legislation on this matter to the Scottish Parliament later this year. The Scottish Government is also committed to take further steps to consult on a charge on single-use disposable beverage cups.

It is therefore ultimately for education authorities to consider whether the provision of water bottles is something that they wish to consider.  The provision of single-use bottled water is not a requirement of law or guidance, and so education authorities have the freedom to make these decisions based on local circumstance and need.  There may be particular reasons why, at this time, education authorities and schools would not wish to progress this approach, particularly if there are concerns about communal use of drinking fountains or jugs as a result of their assessment of risk, but that would not rule out future consideration when circumstances change.