East Sussex County Council will continue using a controversial weedkiller, but give residents an option to opt out by forming volunteer groups.

On Monday (December 11), Cllr Claire Dowling, lead member for transport and environment, considered a report on the authority’s use of glyphosate-based weed killers and a series of trials into alternative methods of weed control. 

After discussion, Cllr Dowling agreed for the council to continue using the controversial herbicide for the time being, following officer advice that there was ‘no alternative solution’ to using glyphosate on a countywide level.

However, communities will be given the option to opt out of weed spraying as long volunteers take on weed control in their area.

While the volunteering option was welcomed, the continued use of glyphosate saw criticism from several councillors present at the meeting. They included Green Party councillor Wendy Maples, who had been part of a motion calling on the council to discontinue use of the herbicide back in 2021.

Cllr Maples raised several concerns about the use of glyphosate, including potential health risks for council workers and residents. She said:

“As far back as 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate is likely cancerous.  

“The evidence of this is being shown in lawsuits. Monsanto [the company behind the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup] has already paid out $11 billion in lawsuits. Bayer [which acquired Monsanto in 2018] has 30,000 lawsuits still outstanding.

“I think employers like the county council, or its contractors, may well be liable. An article in Forbes magazine as recently as last month indicated that employers need to be watching out for this. This is a tragic short-termism that has alternative solutions and I would like to see this council take it seriously.”

Cllr Maples went on to argue that glyphosate also posed a risk to natural environments and is arguably ineffective as a weed control measure in any case. 

Other councillors felt differently, however, pointing out how alternative methods of weed control had been judged to be either too expensive or less effective than using glyphosate. 

The alternatives methods tested in the council’s trials included: volunteers schemes; a non-herbicide ‘strim and sweep’ approach; and a move to ‘reactive trials’, which saw weeds removed when road issues were reported, rather than through the council’s current ‘annual spray’ approach.

The council had also previously tested the use of thermal and mechanical methods and the herbicide-free treatment known as FoamStream. 

Officers identified benefits and drawbacks to each of these methods and ultimately concluded that glyphosate remained the most effective on a countywide basis. 

Officers were also keen to stress that glyphosate spraying is “carefully controlled”, only being applied where weeds are found, in weak concentrations and not on windy or rainy days.

Cllr Dowling said:

“We will continue to look for an alternative, but in the meantime we have undertaken these trials now for a few years. Last year we discounted the foam, because that was not suitable on pavements. 

“I am very, very pleased we are able to take [the volunteer schemes] on as a recommendation. We will put a notice out looking for anyone who wants to opt in. 

“I understand the mixture of comments that have come forward. But I know Brighton and Hove very, very well and there is no way we wish our streets to end up looking like Brighton and Hove.”