Scotland has set a new precedent by being the first nation within the UK to ban numerous types of problematic single-use plastics.
From 12 August 2022, the single-use plastic items listed below are fully banned in Scotland for food which is intended for immediate consumption without any further preparation unless an exemption applies (e.g. single-use plastic straws).
The ban came into force in Scotland on 1 June 2022, subject to the impact of the UK Internal Market Act 2020, which excluded any of the listed items which were first imported or produced in another part of the UK.
From 12 August, when the exclusion to the Internal Market Act is in place, the ban is completely effective and it is unlawful to make and supply commercially the items below, regardless of whether they are produced or first imported into another part of the UK. Supply will also include businesses making donations or gifts of items.
The introduction of market restrictions on certain single-use plastics is another exciting step forward in tackling our throwaway culture and the shift towards a circular economy in Scotland.
The single-use plastics regulations from the Scottish Government were published on 11 November 2021, following the publication of draft regulations in March 2021 and a twelve-week public consultation on the issue, which ended in January 2021. A report with findings from the public consultation is available.
The regulations mean that market restrictions (effectively a ban) is imposed on problematic single-use plastic items which are most commonly found as marine litter in Europe.
The ban means it is unlawful to make and supply commercially any of the following single-use plastic items:
- Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks and other similar utensils)
- Beverage stirrers;
- Food containers made of expanded polystyrene;
- Cups and lids made of expanded polystyrene.
The regulations also make it unlawful to supply commercially the items below.
These items are subject to exemptions which allow them to be supplied in particular settings and circumstances:
- Plastic straws;
- Plastic balloon sticks.
All the restrictions apply to both online and in-store sales, whether they are free or charged for. “Supply” is defined as “supply, whether by sale or not” so supply in the course of a business would include businesses making donations or gifts of items, whether the business donates or gifts to charities in Scotland or in other countries.
As part of the public consultation and further stakeholder engagement, certain exemptions to the single-use plastic regulations have been put in place.
Food needing further preparation:
The ban only applies to food containers, such as boxes, with or without cover used to contain food which is:
- Intended for immediate consumption, either at the receptacle or as a takeaway item,
- Ready to be consumed without any further preparation, such as cooking, heating or boiling.
This means food items, such as uncooked meat supplied by butchers, is exempt from the ban.
Single-use plastic straw exemption
A critical exemption is applied to single-use plastic straws, to ensure those who need them to eat or drink independently or for medical purposes can still get access to them. This means that single-use plastic straws are to be available to purchase at in-store or online pharmacies and given on request in hospitality venues.
They are also to be available for those who need them in a small number of other places such as hospitals, care homes, schools, early learning/childcare premises and prisons.
Furthermore single-use plastic straws can be supplied where they are a medical device, used for medical purposes, used as packaging or by any person providing personal care or support.
Resources for businesses and organisations - including a guidance booklet, exemption cards and social media assets – can be found at zerowastepartners.org.uk/straws-exemption.
Giving out straws when requested
It is also still possible to use single-use plastic balloon sticks for industrial or professional uses where they are not handed out to consumers, for example by an events company to decorate an event provided the balloon sticks are not distributed to the attendees at the event.
What businesses should use instead
Now that the law has come into force. We would encourage businesses to be proactive and start shifting to alternatives (such as reusable items).
When switching to single-use plastics substitutes, businesses should consider this:
- Banning single-use plastic items can be a big win for some environmental impacts, such as the marine environment.
- However, simply switching to other single-use items made of alternative materials can lead to other environmental impacts.
- Businesses may wish to think about how reusables could fit into their operations and where this is not possible, ensure that single-use substitutes are carefully considered.
This is an opportunity for industry to think differently and only offer single-use items where absolutely required, making cost savings and helping to fight the climate emergency. We can make the most positive impact on the planet by shifting from single-use to reusables wherever possible and there are high levels of public support for this shift. A majority 77% of people living in Scotland are concerned about the amount of single-use plastic and single-use packaging we use in Scotland.
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 plastics: looking ahead
This landmark plastics legislation marks another exciting step on Scotland’s move away from single-use items and provides an opportunity to highlight how transition to a circular economy can help address the climate crisis we are all facing.
For example, 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. The Scottish Government intends to establish a working group to support the design of a charge for single-use beverage cups, including arrangements for monitoring its effectiveness. In addition, the Scottish Government will also consider how best to reduce consumption of on-the-go food containers which will involve various engagement activities with stakeholders in 2022*.
Led by Defra, there is a UK-wide approach to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging. A consultation on this ran earlier in 2021. This scheme will support the Scottish Government’s agenda to improve the collection, recycling and recyclability of plastic and other packaging not covered by these single-use plastics market restrictions.
* Subject to the UK Internal Market Act 2020.
Frequently asked questions
What is meant by the new legislation and placing market restrictions on the affected single-use plastic items?
The new regulations essentially mean a ban on the single-use plastic items covered by the legislation, with some exemptions for specific items. This means that businesses are not able to supply these items in Scotland from 1 June 2022*, whether those businesses intend to charge for these items or not. The supply restriction applies for both online and in-store sales. It includes 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 are prohibited under the ban.
The Scottish Government has produced full guidance to accompany the final regulations which explains the scope of the regulations and provide additional detail on how the regulations are to be implemented.
*Subject to the UK Internal Market Act 2020
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 eat and drink independently or for medical purposes. Once the ban is in force, 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 are also be allowed in a select 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 where single-use plastic straws are medical devices, used for medical purposes and where they are used for personal care or support.
By taking an approach that is consistent with other parts of the UK, the exemption provides clarity for individuals on how to access single-use plastic straws wherever they are located. It also provides clarity and consistency for businesses. This approach to protect access to these items is important as single-use plastic straws are a vital accessibility aid for many people to eat and drink independently and can significantly impact social inclusion for some individuals
The Scottish Government’s guidance will help businesses maintain access to single-use plastic straws for those who need them, to ensure the exemption is implemented in a way that respects equalities interests and the dignity of those who need to access single-use plastic straws. Additional resources for businesses in applying the exemptions is available.
The exemption has been included as straws are a vital accessibility aid, and it is important that they remain accessible to those who need them. Businesses should continue to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. It is important to note that customers do not need to provide proof of need when requesting straws.
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 covers 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?
Scotland's single-use plastic ban will be exempt from the UK Internal Market Act from 12 August 2022, allowing the ban to be fully effective.
After this date, the single-use plastic items listed below are fully banned in Scotland unless an exemption applies.
The ban came into force in Scotland on 1 June 2022, subject to the impact of the UK Internal Market Act 2020, which excluded any of the listed items which were first imported or produced in another part of the UK. The regulations were laid before the Scottish Parliament on 11 November 2021.
From 12 August, when the exclusion to the Internal Market Act comes in, the ban will be completely effective in Scotland and it will be unlawful to make and supply commercially, regardless of whether they are produced or first imported into another part of the UK. Supply would also include businesses making donations or gifts of items.
How does the Internal Market Act 2020 relate to the single-use plastics regulations?
The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 affects the application of the Regulations until 12 August 2022.
An agreement has been reached with the UK Government, to bring into force an exclusion from the effects of the Internal Market Act for the Regulations from 12 August 2022.
Once the exclusion from the Internal Market Act is in force on 12 August 2022, the prohibition of the supply of the listed single-use plastic products in the Regulations will apply to all products, regardless of where they originate from and whether they can be supplied in another part of the UK. The Scottish Government encouraged businesses to prohibit the supply of the listed single-use plastic products from 1 June 2022 regardless of the impact of the Internal Market Act.
Why is Scotland taking these steps to ban certain single-use plastic items?
The Scottish Government is now placing a ban on 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 people in Scotland 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 people living in Scotland 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 if see someone still using them after the ban?
It is unlawful under the new regulations to manufacture or supply these items – with the exception of the exemptions for straws and plastic balloon sticks. Enforcement of the regulations is undertaken by local authority enforcement officers and so the local authority for the area in which the business is located should be the first point of contact.
Where can I go to find out more on how the single-use plastics regulations affects my organisation?
Should you have any queries on how the regulations may affect your organisation, please refer to the Scottish Government guidance document in the first instance.
What do the regulations cover?
What items are within the scope of the new legislation?
The ban means it is unlawful to make and supply commercially any of the following items :
- Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks and other similar utensils)
- Single-use plastic plates;
- Single-use plastic beverage stirrers;
- Single-use food containers made of expanded polystyrene;
- Single-use cups made of expanded polystyrene.
The regulations also make it unlawful to supply commercially the items below. These items are subject to exemptions which allow them to be supplied in particular settings and circumstances:
- Single-use plastic straws;
- Single-use plastic balloon sticks;
The legislation covers these 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.
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 labelled 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.
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 the exemptions for straws and balloon sticks?
How can businesses purchase their stock of single-use plastic straws to ensure they can continue to provide access for those who require them to eat and drink independently or medical 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. Providing single-use plastic straws, in line with the exemptions, supports independent living, social inclusion and equal participation for people who need them to eat and drink.
When the regulations come into force, 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 to eat and drink independently. Those serving food and drink are encouraged to retain a smaller stock of these products for this purpose.
Pharmacies are 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 are also 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 are able to purchase single-use plastic straws to supply where required, this includes for use in hospitals and other medical settings.
Wholesalers and suppliers are not prevented from supplying 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 and Zero Waste Scotland have been working with disabled people and their organisations, to develop guidance that accompanies the final regulations, in addition to specific guidance on implementing the exemption for single-use plastic straws in a way which respects the dignity of those who need to access them.
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 eat and drink independently or for medical purposes. While alternatives to single-use plastic straws do exist, these are often not suitable or safe.
From the point the regulations come into force, single-use plastic straws will still be available for those who need them from pharmacies – either in-store or from online pharmacies – and from businesses serving food or drink who can provide them to customers on request.
Individuals who require them to eat or drink independently can also be supplied with a single-use plastic straw by care homes, prisons, schools, early learning and childcare, day care or childminding premises. Furthermore, they can also be supplied for medical purposes or for the purposes of personal care or personal support. This covers any person, not just professionals, in or outside a formal care home setting.
The Scottish Government has been working with disabled people and their organisations to develop guidance that accompanies the final regulations, in addition to specific guidance on implementing the exemption for single-use plastic straws in a way which respects the dignity of those who need to access them. Further guidance will be available in due course.
What exemption applies to balloon sticks for industrial or professional use?
Single-use plastic balloon sticks which are distributed to consumers are restricted under the regulations. 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 has published full guidance to accompany the final regulations which explain the scope of the regulations and provide additional detail on how the regulations are to be implemented.
Are plates and bowls included?
Do the market restrictions apply to single-use plastic bowls?
Single-use plastic bowls are not included within the scope of these market restrictions.
Food containers made specifically from expanded polystyrene are 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. The Scottish Government intends to establish a working group to support the design of a charge for single-use beverage cups, including arrangements for monitoring its effectiveness. In addition, it will also consider how best to reduce consumption of on-the-go food containers which will involve various engagement activities with stakeholders in 2022.
Do the market restrictions apply to single-use plastic plates?
The regulations apply to single-use plastic 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 has published 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 pay for 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 those how need them to eat and drink independently and for medical purposes.
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. 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 the UK-wide approach, led by Defra, to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging. A consultation on this closed in June 2021. This scheme will support the Scottish Government’s agenda to improve collection, recycling and recyclability of plastic and other packaging which aren’t subject to these market restrictions.