Reusable mustard and ketchup bottles at a restaurant

Making more sustainable choices: moving away from single-use

13 Mar 23

With pressure for businesses to take action on plastics, this page is designed to help businesses to identify ways to move away from single-use items.

Single-use items regardless of what material they are made from are damaging to the planet and can be an unnecessary cost to businesses. Single-use plastic items are common and have received a lot of attention, but single-use items made from alternative materials aren’t a simple solution. They still consume limited resources, contribute to Scotland’s carbon emissions and they are still disposed of after just one use. Instead, the priority should be to reduce all single-use items, regardless of the material. 

The following hierarchy can help.

Making more sustainable choices: moving away from single-use

Prioritising actions at the top will have the biggest impact. It may take time, and imagination, to deliver these changes, but ultimately, they will help to transform our high-waste society and could save you money. 

1. Rethink your operations to remove the need for single-use items in the first place.

Wherever possible, businesses should aim to move away from single-use items. Examples of how to do this include:

  • Switch to reusable drinks cups, crockery and cutlery for consuming food on the premises 
  • Use washable pots, jars or bottles that can be refilled for condiments instead of sachets;
  • Introduce a leasing scheme so regular customers can borrow a reusable takeaway coffee cup for a deposit if they have forgotten their own (or to save them the washing up!);
  • Provide a refill station where customers can refill their water bottles easily;
  • Remove non-essential packaging, for example wrapping for multipacks, or unnecessary secondary packaging;
  • Provide your products in a refillable format, so customers can return their original container to be reused.

2. Rethink your set up to reduce demand for single-use items.

If it is not possible to remove certain single-use items altogether, the focus should be on reducing the demand from customers for these products. This can be done by making reusable alternatives more appealing or reducing ease of consumption (e.g. making items available when requested, rather than automatically). Examples of how to do this include:

  • Avoid automatically providing customers with items such as napkins. Instead, only provide these to customers that request them; 
  • Make using reusable cups and food tubs more appealing to customers by adding a charge for single-use items. Separating the charge for the disposable cup from the drink provides a greater incentive for reusable options*1;
  • Provide discounts or rewards for customers who return their original container to be refilled with your product.

3. Only where you cannot avoid single-use items, choose materials that have the lowest environmental impact.

All single-use items have an environmental impact, but this can vary depending on the material the item is made of and how it is manufactured. Understanding the impact of different products can help you to make an informed decision. Consider the following questions:

  • Has your supplier carried out an assessment of the environmental impact of their products? If not, would they be willing to?;
  • What material, or materials, is the product is made from? Single material types (e.g. made from just one plastic type like PET or just glass) are usually easier to recycle than more complex composites, mixed or layered materials that mix together a number of different materials or polymers;
  • Does the product contain recycled content? If so, how much?; Can the product be recycled or composted?;
  • Is the material sustainably sourced? Standards and certifications can help to identify these materials, for example, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for wood from responsibly managed forests.

4. Make sure all single-use items are actually recycled or composted.

It is important to ensure that the single-use items you supply to customers are disposed of appropriately after use, whether this is on your premises or elsewhere.

For items that will be disposed on your premises, you should:

  • Work with your waste contractor or service provider to ensure items can and will be recycled after they’ve been used. If considering compostable items, ensure that when it is disposed of it is sent to a suitable composting facility, and not separated and sent to general waste before or during the composting process;
  • Make sure your recycling facilities on the premises are well labelled, easy to access and that staff and customers understand how to use them.
  • For items that customers will dispose of elsewhere:

Check with the local authority that the material can be recycled or composted locally. 

  • Make sure it is clear for customers how they should dispose of items off-site;
  • Ask your supplier to label items with accurate advice on which bin customers should (and shouldn’t) dispose of them in.