a single use plastic fork on a sandy beach

Single-use plastics – what happens now?

21 Jan 22 3 minutes

We’ve all seen the heart-wrenching images of marine and wildlife surrounded by plastic.  Unfortunately, you don’t need to go far to spot single-use items littering the areas we live, visit and enjoy right here in Scotland.

The single-use problem

As well as causing issues with litter, single-use items are a big contributor to climate change.  Around four-fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods we produce, use and often throw out.

In the EU, the most commonly found and problematic single-use items on beaches are plastic cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and balloon sticks.  In Scotland, it’s also not hard to find expanded polystyrene food containers, expanded polystyrene cups and other beverages containers – equally damaging to surrounding environments and wildlife. 


The single-use plastics ban

So far, in Scotland, there have already been several steps put in place to combat the single-use problem including the ban of plastic stemmed cotton buds and microbeads, new regulations for a deposit return scheme, and the introduction of the single-use carrier bags charge.

Another exciting next step is the new regulations on single-use plastics which came into force on 01 June 2022*. From this date, the single-use plastic items listed below will be banned unless an exemption applies.

Share to help us reach as many people in Scotland with the message that the #SingleUsePlasticsBan is here!

What is now banned

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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 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:

  • Single-use plastic straws.
  • Single-use plastic balloon sticks.

Plastic straws are a vital accessibility aid for some people to eat and drink independently and, for this reason, the upcoming ban on single-use plastics in Scotland includes a critical exemption in support of this. Access to plastic straws is protected for those who need them and they can be made available on request in certain settings such as pharmacies and hospitality premises.

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What the restrictions mean

This new legislation in Scotland, restricting the availability of these problematic single-use plastic items bring with it the associated environmental benefits of reducing litter and carbon impacts.

The restrictions cover single-use plastic products of all types, including ones that are made of plant-based materials and that are biodegradable or compostable. It also covers single-use items which contain plastic and other materials such as plastic-coated paper or plastic-lined cartons.

The ban means that businesses cannot provide these items to end users (customers) in Scotland on a free or chargeable basis either on their premises or online (unless an exemption applies, e.g., straws).

Talking to young people about environmental issues can sometimes be difficult but Glasgow Science Centre's Spark Magazine has a great introduction into the single-use plastics ban on page 3 - "We're saying so long to some single-use plastics".

The law on single-use plastics changed from 1 June* with the introduction of the #SingleUsePlasticsBan.

Possible future measures

Future action on single-use plastic items is likely to include plans to reduce how much we use certain items, ensure the companies who produce products do so more responsibly, and make further improvements to recycling collections.

All of these activities 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.

It is the Scottish Government’s intention to explore further market restrictions on a wider range of items at a later time.

*Subject to the UK Internal Market Act 2020.