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Single-use plastics: the law is changing

The introduction of market restrictions on single-use plastics is another exciting step forward in tackling our throwaway culture and the shift towards a circular economy in Scotland. 

With the draft regulations for the single-use plastics ban now published, it is intended that some items will no longer be available from 2022.

The law on single-use plastics is changing.  As part of a wider package of measures to tackle our throwaway society, the Scottish Government set out its plans to introduce restrictions on problematic single-use plastic items in 2020 with 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 will see market restrictions (effectively a ban) imposed on problematic single-use plastic items which are most commonly found as marine litter in Europe.  

The items which will be restricted are:  

  • 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 ban will mean that it will be unlawful to make and supply any of these items commercially and this applies to both online and in-store sales, whether they are free or charged for.

*exemptions apply

For more information on the items included within the restrictions, please see our FAQs page

Exemptions and exclusions to the rules

One of the reasons for having the public consultation on this new legislation was to understand the implications of the planned measures and whether any exemptions are required.  

Single-use plastic straw exemption

A critical exemption will be applied to single-use plastic straws, to ensure those who need them for independent living or medical purposes can still get access to them.  This means that single-use plastic straws will be available to purchase at in-store or online pharmacies and given on request in hospitality venues. They will also 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.

Balloon sticks

It will also still be possible to use single-use plastic balloon sticks for industrial or professional uses where they are not handed out to consumers.

Getting ready for the new legislation

Now that the draft regulations have been published, businesses affected by the changes have time to prepare for the new laws coming into force and are encouraged to think about managing stock levels of the items due to be banned, in order to avoid waste. We would encourage businesses to be proactive and start shifting to alternatives (such as reusable items) so their single-use plastics stock is used up when regulations become law.

And 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. This is why businesses may wish to think about how reusables could fit into their operations and where this is not possible, ensure that single-use plastic 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 Scots are concerned about the amount of single-use plastic and single-use packaging we use in Scotland. 

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.

This year, for example, the Scottish Government will start to look at measures to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic food containers and beverage cups, such as introducing charges for cups.  There is also a cross-border UK initiative to develop a UK-wide extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging.  A consultation on this ran earlier in the year. This scheme will support the Scottish Government’s agenda to improve the recyclability of plastic and other packaging not covered by these single-use plastics market restrictions. 

If you have any questions on the new regulations, please check our FAQs in the first instance.

Should you wish to keep up-to-date with our work on single-use plastics, please sign up to receive news updates.

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