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Consultation on restrictions to single-use plastics

Four-fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods we produce, use and often throw out. 

As part of a wider package of measures aimed at tackling our throwaway society, the Scottish Government launched a twelve-week public consultation (between 12 October and 4 January 2021) on the introduction of market restrictions on certain single-use plastic items.  Scotland has already taken such action with the existing ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbeads.

The consultation closed on 4 January 2021.  You can learn more about the draft regulations: Single-use plastics: the law is changing.

The products included in this consultation are those which are most commonly found as marine litter in Europe.  This includes:

  • Single-use plastic cutlery;
  • Single-use plastic plates;
  • Single-use plastic straws;
  • Single-use plastic drink stirrers;
  • Single-use plastic balloon sticks;
  • Single-use expanded polystyrene food containers made of expanded polystyrene;
  • Single-use cups and other beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene;
  • all products made of oxo-degradable plastic*.

The proposals cover a series of products across all the different types of plastic that they can be made from, including ones that are made of plant-based materials and that are biodegradable or compostable, as well as single-use items which contain plastic but also other materials such as plastic-coated paper or plastic-lined cartons.  

This action aligns with Article 5 of the EU Directive (EU) 2019/904 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, known as the Single-Use Plastics Directive.  

What this means

This will lead to the introduction of legislation that restricts the availability of these single-use plastic items and all oxo-degradable products.

For businesses, it means they will not provide these items to end-users (customers) in Scotland on a free or chargeable basis - both on their premises or online.

The Scottish Government are also considering the introduction of a restriction on the supply of these items, where the supply is not linked to commercial activity.  For example, the supply by individuals in a personal capacity and the manufacture of these items.  This is not strictly required by the Single Use Plastics Directive and shall be considered as part of the consultation.

The Scottish Government has also laid out how it will give effect to the wider requirements of the Single-use Plastics Directive. This includes:

  • measures to reduce consumption of certain items;
  • the introduction of extended producer responsibility schemes, and;
  • separate collection requirements.

All these measures are intended to reduce the harm caused by single-use items, including reducing the amount of single-use plastics that end up as marine litter.

As well as single-use items, fishing gear is also within the scope of a number of these interventions as a significant proportion of plastic fishing gear placed on the market is not currently collected for treatment and, like single-use plastic items, can also pose a serious risk to marine ecosystems, biodiversity and to human health. It can also adversely affect industries such as tourism, fisheries and shipping. 

Issues with single-use

Regardless of what material they are made of, there are environmental impacts from all products that we produce, including:

  • increased carbon emissions;
  • ecosystem damage;
  • greater pressure on water resource.

When single-use items make it into our waste management system they are often hard to recycle and end up being landfilled or incinerated.

This results in the valuable energy, materials and labour that went into making them being lost, and more products being produced to replace them.   The largest environmental benefits and carbon savings will be achieved if we shift towards reusable materials as much as possible. 

Shaping the future

The Scottish Government consultation on restrictions to single-use plastics is an opportunity for stakeholders of all kinds to have their say on this important proposed action.

We’re inviting responses from businesses, organisations, public bodies, community groups and members of the public on the proposals around the introduction of market restrictions.  The consultation will ask:

  • whether you support the proposals;
  • what the economic, environmental and social impacts of implementation may be; and
  • where exemptions should apply.

Visit zws.scot/singleuseconsultation, where you will be able to complete the formal consultation response and ensure your views are heard.

It is the Scottish Government’s intention to explore further market restrictions on a wider range of items in due course.

Stay up to date

If you would like to stay informed with updates from Zero Waste Scotland on our work on single-use plastics, please complete the following form.

The role of Zero Waste Scotland

Zero Waste Scotland supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to enable a just transition to a fairer and more circular economy by tackling our throwaway society.

Plastic is the focus of the current action due to the marine plastic crisis; to stem the flow of vast amounts of plastic leaking into our oceans.  Both the scientific evidence and public outrage are the reasons why the Scottish Government are tackling plastic now, as no other material is as widespread or has the same long-lasting impacts on our marine environment. 

In Scotland, plastic represents 20% of all terrestrial litter, and it is the most commonly found littered item on Scottish beaches (nine out of the top ten items contain plastic). 

Zero Waste Scotland is keen to promote a switch to reusable items wherever possible and urges businesses and stakeholders to do this rather than switching to single-use items made of materials other than plastic, such as paper or wood.


* - Oxo-degradable plastics have an additional ingredient that speeds up the break down into smaller pieces of plastic and causes microplastic particles.
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