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FAQs - Consultation on restrictions to single-use plastics

Zero Waste Scotland has provided a series of frequently asked questions and answers, as part of the consultation on restrictions to single-use plastics.

What is meant by placing market restrictions on the affected single use items?

The market restrictions that are being proposed would essentially mean a ban on the single-use plastic items identified within the consultation and on all oxo-degradable products, with some exemptions for specific uses. This would mean that businesses could not supply these items in Scotland, whether those businesses intend to charge for these items or not. The supply restriction would apply for both online and in-store sales.  It would include the supply of imported listed items and materials. Through this consultation, the Scottish Government is also considering the introduction of a restriction on the supply of these items by individuals in a personal capacity and the manufacture of the items in question.  

Will there be any exemptions to these restrictions?

Yes, there will be exemptions covering some single-use items.  Certain items that perform a vital function which cannot be easily replaced with a more sustainable alternative or provide crucial quality of life enhancing functions for disabled people. This is true for plastic straws for example.  Part of the consultation process is to understand how access can be maintained for people who require straws for medical use or to support independent living, and if any other exemptions should be considered.   

When will the restrictions come into force?  

The Scottish Government intends to introduce the regulations in 2021.

What items are within the scope of this consultation? 

  • Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks);
  • Single-use plastic plates (plates, bowls, platters/trays);
  • Single-use plastic straws;
  • Single-use plastic beverage stirrers;
  • Single-use plastic balloon sticks;
  • Single-use food containers made of expanded polystyrene; 
  • Single-use cups and other beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, including their covers and lids;
  • All oxo-degradable products.

The consultation includes plastic items made from both fossil-based and plant-based plastics regardless of whether they are recyclable, biodegradable or compostable.  It would also cover plastics items which contain recycled content.

Why is plastic that is biodegradable or compostable included? Isn’t that a green alternative to normal plastic?

Single-use items made from biodegradable or compostable plastic are still single-use and still discarded after one use. There are environmental impacts, be it carbon emissions, ecosystem damage or greater pressure on water resources, associated with all of the products we produce, including plastics which are biodegradable or compostable. Replacing these items with reusable alternatives that we can use for longer can reduce these impacts.

Plastics which are biodegradable or compostable are not designed to be discarded into our environment. Like normal plastic single-use items, there are also challenges for our waste management system to deal with these items and these often end up being landfilled or incinerated too.

Why are there only plastic items on the list, and not disposable items made from other materials? 

The durability, versatility and widespread use of plastic has been a significant factor in modern lifestyles and it is these same characteristics that make this material so damaging to our oceans, rivers and on land.  Plastic represents 20% of all land-based litter in Scotland and nine out of the top ten items found on Scottish beaches contain plastic.

Single-use plastic items are those which are covered in the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive and so those are the ones that are being considered for this initial consultation. However, the Scottish Government recognises that the problems caused by single-use items cannot be solved by replacing them with alternative single-use items made with different materials. While the focus is on the items listed above, the Scottish Government is committed to monitoring closely the response to these restrictions and assessing what more needs to be done to address our throwaway culture.

There is a need to shift behaviour towards reusable alternatives that can be used again and again.

Why have these particular items been selected?  

The items included within the scope of the consultation align Scotland with the items selected by the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive and are the most commonly found sources of beach and marine litter on beaches in Europe.  

Are there plans to add more items to this list in future? 

The consultation highlights additional items that will be considered for market restrictions, including wet wipes containing plastics and plastic tampon applicators, recognising items which blight Scotland’s beaches but do not appear at a European level.

What is oxo-degradable plastic? 

Oxo-degradable plastic refers to plastic materials that include additives which, through oxidation, lead to the disintegration of the plastic material into micro-fragments or to chemical decomposition.   

Although presented and marketed as biodegradable, a significant body of evidence suggests that, in reality, oxo-degradable plastics simply break down into small fragments and contribute to harmful microplastic pollution1 and negatively affects the recycling of conventional plastic.    Oxo-degradable plastic is sometimes found in carrier bags and agricultural films. 

Why is this being done by Scotland when it is an EU directive and we are leaving the EU?  

The Scottish Government is proposing this action to align Scotland with the Single-Use Plastics Directive as it reinforces Scotland’s ambitions in tackling our throwaway society and moving Scotland towards a circular economy where items are kept in use for as long as possible.  Plastic stemmed cotton buds have already been subject to market restrictions in Scotland since October 2019, ahead of the rest of the UK and the Directive.   

Is the rest of the UK doing this as well? 

In England, recent restrictions have already been introduced on some items such as single-use plastic straws, beverage stirrers and cotton buds.  In Wales, a similar public consultation on the listed items was launched in August 2020. 

Is this the only measure being taken on plastics?  

The proposals set out in this consultation form part of the Scottish Government’s overall approach to reduce reliance on disposable items and sit alongside a broader range of initiatives already established or underway. This includes: market restrictions on plastic microbeads and plastic-stemmed cotton buds, a 5p levy on single-use carrier bags, with work underway to increase the charge to 10p, and ongoing work to reform the UK-wide producer responsibility scheme for packaging. Further examples are set out in the consultation.

This consultation also sets out how the Scottish Government will give effect to the range of other measures included in the Single-Use Plastics Directive.

What should businesses and consumers use instead of the restricted items once they are no longer available? 

By introducing market restrictions, the Scottish Government wants to see innovative solutions towards more sustainable business models and reusable alternatives prioritised over substituting plastic for other materials. For example, choosing metal reusable cutlery over single-use cutlery made of non-plastic materials.  The problems caused by single-use items cannot be solved by replacing them with alternative single-use items made with different materials.  

Where can I have my say? How can I get involved in the consultation?  

Please visit https://zws.scot/singleuseconsultation to submit your responses online. You can also attend one of our public-facing webinars to hear more about the measures being proposed, have your say and ask any questions.   The consultation closes on the 4th January 2021. 

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