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FAQs - Single-use plastics - draft regulations

What is meant by the new legislation and placing market restrictions on the affected single-use plastic items?

The new regulations will essentially mean a ban on the single-use plastic items covered by the legislation, with some exemptions for specific items. This would mean that businesses will not be able to supply these items in Scotland, whether those businesses intend to charge for these items or not. The supply restriction will apply for both online and in-store sales.  It will include the supply of imported listed items and materials. 

In addition to restricting supply, the manufacturing of single-use plastic cutlery, plates, beverage stirrers, and single-use food containers, cups and other beverage containers made from expanded polystyrene will also be prohibited.

The Scottish Government will produce full guidance to accompany the final regulations which will explain the scope of the regulations and provide additional detail on how the regulations are to be implemented.

Will there be any exemptions to these restrictions?

The new regulations create an exemption to protect access to single-use plastic straws for those who need them to enable independent living or for medical purposes.  Single-use plastic straws will be available for purchase at pharmacies or given on request at hospitality or catering premises. 

A supply of single-use plastic straws will also be allowed in a small number of other places, where access to single-use plastic straws may be essential. This includes care homes, schools, childcare and early learning facilities as well as prisons. The regulations provide an exemption for medical purposes, this would include use within a hospital for example.

By taking an approach which is consistent with other parts of the UK, the exemption will provide clarity for individuals on how to access single-use plastic straws wherever they are located.  It will also provide clarity and consistency for businesses.  This approach to protect access to these items is important as it can significantly impact social inclusion and independent living for some individuals.

To ensure a practical and inclusive approach to implementing these exemptions, the Scottish Government have been, and will continue to work with stakeholders, including representatives from equalities groups.

The regulations also provide an exemption, in line with the SUP Directive, for single-use plastic balloon sticks which are used for industrial or professional uses. This would cover use by events professionals, for example, for decorative purposes where the balloons and balloon sticks are not handed out to customers.  

When will the final regulations come into force?

It is intended the final regulations will be laid before the Scottish Parliament later in 2021. The items listed in these regulations will no longer be available from 2022, subject to some exemptions.  

Why is Scotland taking these steps to ban certain single-use plastic items?

The Scottish Government is taking steps to ban certain single-use plastic items as it aligns with our ambitions as a country to tackle our throwaway society and move Scotland towards a circular economy where items are kept in use for as long as possible.  Plastic stemmed cotton buds have already been banned in Scotland since October 2019 ahead of the rest of the UK.   

What are the benefits of the new single-use plastics regulations?

The new single-use plastics regulations are an essential step to tackling the climate emergency.  Around four fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods, materials and services we produce, use and often throw out after minimal use.  We use an estimated 300 million plastic straws, 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery, 50 million plastic plates and 66 million polystyrene food containers every year in Scotland.  Each item used for minutes and then discarded in the bin, or worse, found littering our streets, countryside, rivers and seas, where they can last for centuries.   

The introduction of the single-use plastics ban will help put an end to this and positively impact our environment.  It is an exciting next step towards a circular economy in Scotland where products are kept in use for as long as possible. We encourage businesses and individuals to opt instead for reusable alternatives as much as possible.  Moving towards reusables lowers our carbon impact, saves money in the long run and of course there is no associated litter. 

Are Scots supportive of the regulations?

The Scottish Government conducted a public consultation which showed strong support for banning the single-use plastics items included in the draft regulations, which are commonly found washing up on beaches across Europe.  Zero Waste Scotland research showed that 77% of Scots are concerned about the amount of single-use items and packaging we use and that 66% would support even further measures to reduce consumption such as introducing charges on items (similar to that of the carrier bag charge).  The reasons for their support included reducing harm to the marine environment, reducing litter and help stop climate change.   

What do the regulations cover?

What items are within the scope of the new legislation?

• Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, sporks, chopsticks etc.)  

• single-use plastic plates   

• 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 made of Expanded Polystyrene   

 

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

 

*exemptions apply  

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

Single-use items made from plastic labelled as biodegradable or compostable 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 labelled 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, these items are challenging to deal with in our waste management system and 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 this long-lasting nature that makes 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 included in the new regulations. However, the Scottish Government recognises replacing single-use plastic items with alternative single-use items made with different materials can result in switching one set of environmental impacts for another. 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. 

Why have these particular items been selected?

The items included within the scope of the new legislation 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 Scottish Government sought views during the consultation if additional items, beyond those specifically proposed, should be considered.  The Scottish Government plans to consider how to take forward action on further problematic single-use items in due course, and will utilise the evidence offered throughout this consultation process when doing so. 

Why is this legislation being introduced in Scotland when it is an EU Directive and we are leaving the EU?

The Scottish Government is introducing this legislation to align Scotland with the EU 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?

Scotland is the first part of the UK to introduce draft regulations on such a comprehensive list of items.  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 public consultation on market restrictions for the items listed in the Single-Use Plastics Directive was launched in August 2020. Northern Ireland must, as part of the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement Northern Ireland Protocol, implement certain requirements set out in the Single-Use Plastics Directive; this includes the market restrictions for the items listed in these regulations. 

What about straws?

How will businesses purchase their stock of single-use plastic straws to ensure they can continue to provide access for those who require them for medical, disability or independent living purposes?

Access to single-use plastic straws is being protected because alternatives, such as paper or reusable straws, are often not suitable or safe replacements.

Catering businesses, such as cafes and restaurants, will still be able to buy single-use plastic straws from manufacturers or wholesalers to give to individuals who require them for independent living and social inclusion. Those serving food and drink should ensure they retain a smaller stock of these products for this purpose. 

Pharmacies will be able to buy single-use plastic straws from manufacturers or wholesalers so individuals who need them, or someone on their behalf, can purchase them for use at home or elsewhere.

A small number of other establishments will also be able to purchase single-use plastic straws where they provide them to individuals who need them. This includes care homes, prisons, schools, early learning and childcare, day care and childminding premises

Health professionals will be able to purchase single-use plastic straws to supply where required, this includes for use in hospital and other medical settings.  

Wholesalers and suppliers are not prevented from suppling single-use plastic straws to those businesses and facilities identified above to ensure products are accessible in Scotland where required. 

There are certain conditions in the regulations relating to the supply of single-use plastic straws, for example making them available on request. The Scottish Government will continue to work with stakeholders, including representatives from equalities groups, to develop guidance that accompanies the final regulations, in addition to specific communications when the regulations come into force. 

How will individuals who rely on single-use plastic straws access them?

The regulations provide a critical exemption to protect access to these straws for those who need them to enable independent living or for medical purposes. While alternatives to single-use plastic straws do exist, these are often not suitable or safe. 

Single-use plastic straws will be available for individuals to purchase from pharmacies – either in-store or from online pharmacies – and business serving food or drink can provide them to customers on request. 

Individuals who require them can also be supplied with a single-use plastic straw by hospitals, care homes, prisons, schools, early learning and childcare, day care or childminding premises. 

The Scottish Government will continue to work with stakeholders, including representatives from equalities groups, to develop guidance that accompanies the final regulations, in addition to specific communications when the regulations come into force.

Are plates and bowls included?

Do the market restrictions apply to single-use plastic bowls?

Based on the responses to the recent consultation, single-use plastic bowls will not be included within the scope of these market restrictions. 

Food containers made specifically from expanded polystyrene will be banned under these regulations, however, it has never been the intention for these market restrictions to prevent the sale or use of all single-use plastic food containers. Food containers are subject to action under Article 4 of the Single-Use Plastics Directive – consumption reduction measures.

Feedback from stakeholders highlighted that items described as bowls can be used interchangeably as food-containers. The Scottish Government has therefore decided single-use plastic bowls will be considered alongside food containers under forthcoming measures to reduce the consumption of these single-use items.

The Scottish Government has already consulted on the introduction of charges for the provision of items, such as single-use disposable items, that are harmful to the environment. A working group to support the design of a charge for single-use beverage cups, including arrangements for monitoring its effectiveness, will be established this year. The Scottish Government will also consider how best to reduce consumption of on-the-go food containers and look to initiate engagement with stakeholders in 2021. 

Do the market restrictions apply to single-use plates?

The regulations apply to single-use plates. These items are considered to be predominantly flat dishes which typically have slightly bevelled or raised perimeters to stop food rolling off or spilling from them. They are designed/used for consuming or serving food at the point of sale and are not suitable for transporting food away. These items are sold without a lid, regardless of whether they are covered, e.g. by foil or film, at the point of sale.

The regulations apply to plates, which are made entirely from plastic, as well as those made partially from plastic, such as paper plates with a plastic lining.

The Scottish Government will produce full guidance to accompany the final regulations which will explain the scope of the regulations and provide additional detail on how the regulations are to be implemented.

What if I still have some stock left by the deadline?

From the point at which the regulations come into force, it will be unlawful to supply any single-use plastic cutlery, plates, beverage stirrers, as well as food containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene. 

These restrictions apply to both online and physical transactions, regardless of whether the items are charged for or handed out for free.

It will be unlawful for businesses to supply balloon sticks, except where they are used for industrial or professional purposes and not handed out to consumers. There is also an additional three months to use up stocks, so long as they were purchased by you before the law came into effect.

There are specific exemptions to protect the supply of single-use plastic straws for people who require them to facilitate independent living and social inclusion or for medical purposes. It will be important that catering businesses continue to hold a smaller supply of single-use plastic straws for these purposes, and that pharmacies stock them for individuals to purchase for use at home or elsewhere. A small number of other establishments, including hospitals, care homes, schools, early learning providers and prisons will also be allowed to supply single-use plastic straws for those who require them.

Following publication of these draft regulations, businesses should prepare for these market restrictions. Your business should consider how to effectively manage stock levels and make future purchases so stocks are used up ahead of the three month transition period concluding in early 2022.

What exemption applies to balloon sticks for industrial or professional use?

Single-use plastic balloon sticks which are distributed to consumers will be restricted. This includes ones that are purchased or supplied ‘free’ with a balloon at a shop or other business or are distributed to consumers at a private event.

The regulations do not apply to single-use plastic balloon sticks that are sold for industrial or professional use. This is in line with the requirements of the Single-Use Plastics  Directive. It includes where balloon sticks are supplied business to business and not distributed to consumers, such as professional party planners.

The Scottish Government will produce full guidance to accompany the final regulations which will

explain the scope of the regulations and provide additional detail on how the regulations are to be implemented.

What should I use instead?

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

77% of Scots are concerned about the amount of single-use plastic items and packaging we use in Scotland.  This is an opportunity to think differently and only use single-use items where absolutely required, saving money and helping to fight climate change.

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.

Are alternatives more expensive than the single-use plastic items which are being restricted?

The overall cost difference to an individual business is expected to be minor. If replacing these single-use plastic items with other disposable alternatives, then businesses have already shown ways to successfully manage these small costs. For example, by reducing the number of items handed out businesses can reduce the number they need to purchase. This also reduces the environmental impact from these items, since these alternative disposable items are still single use – even if they have different environmental impacts to plastic.  

The Scottish Government is clear that they want to see innovative solutions towards more sustainable business models, and this includes seeing reusable alternatives prioritised over substituting plastic for other materials. For example, replacing single-use plastic cutlery with washable metal cutlery.

Adopting reusable alternatives can have cost implications for businesses, however, there are also savings to be made from not having to continually purchase single-use items or their disposal.

Choosing single-use should be the last resort, rather than the default choice.

Why is the manufacturing of some of these items being restricted?

The regulations prevent the manufacturing of single-use plastic cutlery, plates, beverage stirrers, as well as food containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene. This means that as well as restricting the supply of these items, the items cannot be manufactured for export, distribution and disposal elsewhere in the world. The issues relating to single-use plastics are global, not just ones which impact Scotland.  Prevention of manufacturing and exporting of these items demonstrates Scotland’s responsible global citizenship by not contributing to the environmental impacts of these items in other countries. 

Single-use plastic straws can still be manufactured in Scotland to allow for a supply of straws to be available for medical purposes and for use to facilitate independent living and social inclusion. 

What else is Scotland doing to tackle single-use and transition to a circular economy?

The market restrictions are a milestone on Scotland’s journey to a circular economy. They form part of a package of measures outlined in the EU’s Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive that the Scottish Government has committed to implement to also address marine litter and support a shift away from our throwaway culture. This year, the Scottish Government will start looking at measures to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic beverage cups and food containers, initially prioritising the introduction of charges for cups and the establishment of a working group to support the design of this change. 

These measures are also part of the Scottish Government’s overall approach to reducing reliance on disposable items and sit alongside a broader range of initiatives already established or underway, like its joint work with the UK, Welsh and Northern Irish governments to develop a new UK-wide extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging. A consultation on this is due to be published shortly. This scheme will support the Scottish Government’s agenda to improve recyclability of plastic and other packaging which aren’t subject to these market restrictions.

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