7 June, 2022

Breast Cancer UK speaks with Pesticide Free Balerno; a voluntary initiative based in the beautiful Balerno, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Residents from a village on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland, are paving the way for the chemical-free removal of weeds in communities across the UK.

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) named glyphosate, the main ingredient of most weed killers, as a ‘probable carcinogen’, a small group of concerned individuals in Balerno, started petitioning the council for their street and surrounding area to become pesticide-free.

As word spread, more streets joined in. This led to the formation of Pesticide Free Balerno (PFB) in 2019. The group of residents now work together to raise awareness about how it’s entirely possible to remove weeds without using harmful chemicals. This includes on streets, pavements, green spaces, and hard surfaces where we live, work, and play.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Pesticides do not just harm the weeds that they are marketed as to control, they have a major impact on non-target organisms, like soil, biodiversity, and humans.”

How BCUK and Pesticide Free Balerno work together 

There are many chemicals that affect your health and can increase your risk of breast cancer. This is why Breast Cancer UK campaigns to ban and restrict harmful chemicals found in everyday products and the environment.

Glyphosate, used by most councils around the UK to remove weeds, may increase breast cancer risk. Pesticides can act as breast carcinogens, interfering with the development of mammary glands and making us more susceptible to breast cancer.

Lowering the amount of chemicals you use in everyday life will help you reduce your risk of breast cancer. And, help to protect the long-term health of people, wildlife, and the environment.

Pesticide Free Balerno’s latest campaign

After petitioning the council to take a precautionary approach and support safe, environmentally friendly weed management, PFB’s campaign started with a pesticide-free trial in one area of an estate. The group’s campaign-built momentum through a steady stream of campaigning at local events. Working to gather signatures from residents in surrounding households. As a result, in February 2020, the city council agreed for Balerno to become pesticide-free.

An agreement was reached that the area’s weeds would be removed by a volunteer weeding group. A trial of safe alternatives was proposed for the following year. Secure in the knowledge that its streets and pavements were not being sprayed with harmful pesticides. The volunteers began to go out and manually weed their village.

The group has grown to around 30 people and is made up of like-minded individuals from all walks of life. Working together to create a better environment for themselves and future generations.

Their spokesperson explained: “Pesticide Free Balerno is very proud and inspired by the next generation who want to make change happen – not just talk about it! We’ve illustrated how it is perfectly possible to weed without using harmful chemicals.”

The benefits

Since going pesticide-free, Balerno residents have reported an 80% increase in biodiversity. They have also been chosen by the Wildlife Trust as a case study of a community helping to support the reverse of insect decline. Additionally, parents with children who have respiratory health conditions have also noticed an improvement in their child’s health since swapping to safer alternatives.

One parent said: “My child used to get very unwell when weedkiller was sprayed and now that I know there are no chemicals sprayed around my house, I’m so relieved about this.”

What’s next?

In May last year (2021), the City of Edinburgh Council started its trial using the pesticide-free weed control alternative, Foamstream.

Foamstream is a herbicide-free treatment to remove weeds. Made from natural organic plant oils and sugars, and is safe to use around people, animals, and delicate environments like waterways.

You can use it on all kinds of jobs that many councils currently use chemical-laden solutions to resolve. It can be used on any surface, such as bus shelters and road signs, to remove chewing gum and graffiti. It can be used all year round, helping to reduce costs for local authorities.

Along with being concerned about the impact on people and the environment, the group worry about the health of their furry friends.

The group explains: “Pets, especially dogs and cats, are heavily affected by the use of pesticides in our community. They are more vulnerable to the chemicals used to treat weeds. Due to their proximity to the ground, their investigative nature, and their unprotected paws. Pets come in contact with pesticides by digging, sniffing, licking, and eating unknown objects.”

Pesticide Free Balerno has created some resources to help other people go pesticide-free in their local area. To download, check out their website at pesticidefreebalerno.com

Would you like to learn more about the group? And how to set one up in your area? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Want to find out more about pesticides? Read our pesticide factsheet here.

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