We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

Preventing Household Waste in Scotland: A Consultation Paper: January 2006, Paper 2006/1


4 Consumers

"The average Scottish Consumer wastes £1,597 per year on goods and services that they don't use. Throwing away uneaten food costs £438 per year" - Soggy lettuce report by The Prudential

In 1980 the average time it took to prepare and cook a meal for a family of four was 1 hour 20 minutes. In 2002 the average had fallen to just 13 minutes - Waste and Resources Action Programme


4.1 To prevent waste we must either consume less (with inevitable implications for the economy), or consume differently - in such a way that waste is 'decoupled' from GDP. This may be achieved by improving resource productivity (getting more from the same unit of resource), or by switching from material goods to services.

4.2 The previous two chapters look at the issue of changing the supply of goods and services. This chapter looks at how to influence demand, and change consumer behaviour.

4.3 Research has shown that the public generally support and are prepared to use recycling facilities. In a survey carried out by the Scottish Waste Awareness Group in 2001, 83% of Scottish households indicated that they would be willing to or already participated in a kerbside collection scheme. The Scottish Household Survey http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/08/03155211/52120 indicated that in 2004, 61% of households surveyed said that they had recycled certain items specified in the survey, up from 55% in 2003. Since 2003, the percentage of households recycling has increased for each item in the survey.

4.4 However, waste prevention behaviour, as opposed to recycling behaviour, is harder. There are a variety of reasons for this:

  • Recycling is easy to do and becoming easier as more facilities are being provided. Waste prevention is not as straightforward.
  • As has already been outlined in this paper, providing information on products with low waste profiles is difficult as it is not always easy to establish what has a low waste profile.
  • There are inevitable pressures on today's consumers to consume more, rather than less, even though this may not necessarily bring increased quality of life. The reasons for consumption are complex, and therefore to influence consumption patterns we must aim to understand these and tailor policy instruments accordingly.

Consumer power

4.5 The providers of goods and services earn their living by working for the customer. Customer feedback is, therefore, vital for providers and the best companies learn from what customers are saying and improve accordingly. However, traditionally, the UK consumer has not been skilled at making effective complaints to providers. In addition, companies, and public bodies, have not always been skilled at responding effectively and learning from mistakes. The Department of Trade and Industry's Consumer Direct service, which provides advice to consumers and extends to Scotland http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk /, provides advice on how best to complain. Key points are to remain calm, to be assertive without being aggressive and to be clear about what you are complaining about.

4.6 In relation to waste, consumers can approach local retailers about what they perceive to be excess packaging; about stocking particular products; about the provision of information and recycling facilities. In addition, of course, consumers have the ultimate sanction of not buying certain products.

Question 17. Do consultees consider that further action should be taken to make it easier for consumers to raise environmental and waste issues with retailers and other providers of goods and services? Possible actions could include the provision of further information by Government, consumer bodies and retailers on how to complain about excessive packaging and waste.

Consumer decisions

4.7 Every single purchasing decision has an implication for the amount of waste generated. The kinds of choices that consumers could make to prevent waste are:

  • Purchasing services rather than products ( e.g. buying a present which involves an experience, such as a visit to the cinema, and does not involve a physical product).
  • Taking a shopping list to the shops and sticking to it.
  • Hiring, borrowing or sharing ( e.g. borrowing books, films or toys from libraries or hiring tools rather than buying them).
  • Buying reusable products and avoiding disposable products (eg using real nappies rather than disposable ones).
  • Buying products with a long life or which are upgradable / "future proof".
  • Buying products which have less materials and/or less hazardous material content.
  • Avoiding unnecessary packaging.
  • Buying products made from recycled materials.

4.8 The Scottish Waste Awareness Group's website has a tool, called SORTIT, which provides information on local services that can provide low waste products. This can be found at http://www.wascot.org.uk/sort_it_website/html/map.htm The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs intends to develop a service called Environment Direct. This will provide public advice on the environmental impacts of different goods and services generally and how to make the most sustainable consumption lifestyle choices.

Environmental loyalty cards

4.9 In some places, loyalty cards "reward" consumers for making sustainable purchases. A loyalty card of this nature, the "NuCard", is in place in Rotterdam. Points are given to cardholders for purchasing ecolabelled products; green financial products; renewable energy; insulation materials and for separating waste for recycling. These products can then be redeemed for other environmentally beneficial products and services, such as public transport; eco-efficient products; re-used products and repair services.

Question 18: Do consultees consider that environmental loyalty cards should be run in Scotland? It is likely that any such cards would have to be run by retail outlets. Is there any role here for the Scottish Executive and/or SEPA?

Plastic bags

4.10 Mike Pringle MSP has introduced a Member's Bill to impose a levy on plastic bags. Under this Bill, a levy of 10p, collected by local authorities, would be levied on plastic bags provided to consumers.

4.11 The Bill has been considered by the Environment and Rural Development Committee of the Scottish Parliament. The Committee has produced an interim report which can be found at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/environment/reports-05/rar05-13-vol01-01.htm

4.12 Paragraph 146 of the Report indicates that the "Committee wishes to see ambitious measures to address plastic bag use included in the Executive's waste minimisation strategy -including exploration of a levy. The Committee, therefore, requests that the Executive consider this as a matter of urgency". Paragraph 148 says that "the Committee requests the Minister to report to it by 31 August 2006 on his plans to address the use of plastic bags in the waste minimisation strategy".

4.13 There has been considerable debate about plastic bags in relation to Mr. Pringle's Bill. The Executive:

  • Has commissioned a study by AEA Technology on the proposed levy (a summary can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/08/1993102/31039 ) and has also prepared a Regulatory Impact Assessment (which can be found at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/environment/papers-05/rap05-28.pdf#page=20 )
  • Considers that plastic bags make up around 0.3% of the municipal waste stream.
  • Considers that introducing a levy on plastic bags at the point of sale might make the consumer consider whether or not to request a new bag. However, it is more debatable whether this would have a wider impact on general waste awareness.
  • Considers that plastic bags are often handed out automatically by retailers (except where self-serve bag dispensers are used) and there is scope for reducing their use.

4.14 There are a variety of options in relation to plastic bags, discussed below.

4.15 Option 1 would be to take no action specifically on plastic bags. The argument for this is that although some plastic bags are handed out unnecessarily, they do not form a significant proportion of the waste stream and action to promote waste prevention should be targeted to ensure it has an impact. In addition, action on plastic bags alone might increase the use of other bags or packaging, which could have a greater environmental impact. The argument against no action is that waste prevention should be pursued wherever there might be some tangible impact, even though this impact may be limited.

4.16 Option 2 would be to promote voluntary measures by retailers and other bodies handing out plastic bags. A Code of Practice on handing out plastic bags could cover areas such as ensuring check-out staff are trained not to hand out bags automatically; promoting the collection of plastic bags for recycling; encouraging the specification of bags made from recycled material and promoting greater re-use of bags. The argument for voluntary action is that a Code of Practice would be proportionate to the issue being raised. A Code of Practice should also avoid any switches to paper bags and any additional sales of bin liners as a Code would only tackle the unnecessary use of bags. The argument against a Code of Practice is that it is unlikely to lead to as big a reduction in plastic bag usage as could be expected after the introduction of a levy.

4.17 Option 3 would be to introduce a levy on plastic bags, as proposed in Mr. Pringle's Bill. The argument for this option is that it could be expected to lead to a significant reduction in the use of plastic bags (90% in Ireland). The arguments against are that there could be a switch to (bulkier and heavier) paper bags which could impact on landfill, transport and storage. It might also increase the use of other items, such as bin bags. The levy might also be difficult for local authorities and business (particularly smaller businesses) to administer and there is likely to be an impact on jobs in Scotland.

4.18 Option 4 is discussed in paragraph 116 of the Committee's report. This says that "a levy 'upstream' (on suppliers of bags) was suggested by some witnesses. FoES [Friends of the Earth Scotland] cited a 66% reduction in consumption of bags as a result of an upstream levy in Denmark. Such a levy appeared likely to be easier to administer, but less effective in changing behaviour. Although it reduces bag use quite significantly, it does not directly affect the decisions and awareness of individual consumers."

4.19 The Scottish Executive considers that there may be a number of issues with this option. One is that there will only be a limited number of suppliers of plastic bags in Scotland, and so only some local authorities would be involved in collecting the levy. This could be an advantage, as the administrative burden would be less, but then only some local authorities would receive income from the levy. Plastic bags are already treated as packaging under the definitions of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. UK bag manufacturers are subject to the Climate Change Levy and UK importers of bags made outwith the EU are subject to import duties.

4.20 Another issue with Option 4 is that suppliers of plastic bags operate on a UK basis. Therefore, a supplier based in Scotland might supply bags to retailers in England and vice-versa. If bags provided by Scottish suppliers were subject to a levy whilst bags provided by English suppliers were not, there would be a clear incentive to purchase bags from England rather than Scotland. This could lead to companies moving from Scotland to England.

4.21 Option 5 would be to extend the levy to paper bags as well as plastic bags. The advantage of this option is that paper bags are bulkier and heavier than plastic bags and they have the potential to degrade to CO2 and methane. Extending the levy to paper bags would stop any shift towards them. The disadvantages are that there is less information on the impact a levy on paper bags would have, as paper bags would not be subject to a levy under Mike Pringle's Bill and so less research has been carried out. In addition, the impact on jobs in Scotland could be expected to increase if a levy should be introduced on paper bags.

4.22 It is also possible that the public might be more resistant to a levy on paper bags since these are often perceived as being more environmentally friendly because of their bio-degradability and the use of recycled paper in their manufacture. A variant of Option 5 would be to extend the levy to all carrier bags, regardless of the material they are made from. However, there has been no research on the impact of this.

4.23 Option 6 would be to ban the supply of plastic bags to consumers altogether. France, for example, intends to ban the supply of non-biodegradable plastic bags to the final consumer from 2010. However, given that plastic bags make up a small proportion of the waste stream, there is an argument that a ban is disproportionate and could lead to increased use of other materials.

Question 19: Which of the above options would consultees prefer in relation to the use of plastic bags?

Question 20: What priority do consultees consider the Executive should give to reducing the use of plastic bags in the context of work to promote household waste prevention generally? (As outlined in paragraph 1.2 of this consultation paper, information on household waste composition can be found in SEPA's Waste Data Digests).

Unwanted mail

4.24 The UK Government has a voluntary producer responsibility agreement with the Direct Marketing Association - to raise recycling levels to 70% by 2013; to work with local authorities to achieve this; to use recycled paper; and to better target mailings.

4.25 The Mailing Preference Service, run by the Direct Marketing Association, supports consumers' rights to choose the mail they want. Registering with this service can reduce the amount of unwanted mail received. There are currently around 148,000 Scottish households registered to stop unsolicited direct mail. More information can be obtained from http://www.mpsonline.org.uk/mpsr / However the DMA only has influence over direct mail (as opposed to unaddressed mail) and only with DMA members.

4.26 A further issue is unwanted unaddressed mail. Some of this is delivered by the Royal Mail through their door-to-door deliveries. It is possible to opt out of this service but this also has the effect of stopping unaddressed mail from local and central government In addition, the Royal Mail is legally obliged to deliver mail addressed 'to the householder/occupier'.

4.27 Other sources of unaddressed mail are local companies such as restaurants and take-aways seeking trade; political parties seeking votes; and local charities seeking support.

4.28 Unwanted mail may also be sent to consumers from bodies with which the consumers have a relationship (eg mail from financial providers which the consumer uses or mail from charities which the consumer supports). In these cases, the Scottish Executive recommends that consumers should contact the bodies concerned, indicating what information the consumer would like to receive.

4.29 Up until now, action on direct mail has been voluntary. Action by Government, such as the imposition of a levy, could be difficult to enforce and would require primary legislation.

Question 21: Do consultees consider that further action should be taken in relation to unwanted mail and leaflets? If so, what?

Home composting

4.30 Around 63% of household waste is biodegradable, and around 30% is potentially compostable at home. Home composting therefore reduces the amount of waste that the local authority has to collect. A number of community sector bodies and local authorities are active in promoting home composting. In addition, the Scottish Executive has funded WRAP to provide home composting bins in a number of areas in Scotland, through local authority and community sector parties. This work by WRAP includes an evaluation of the overall effectiveness of home composting in diverting garden and kitchen organic waste from landfill and the best methods of promoting home composting.

4.31 Preliminary results from WRAP suggest that home composting can lead to the average household putting just under one quarter of a tonne less waste a year out for collection. The best results from home composting are obtained when the householder is given clear advice on how to use the home composting bin. Green waste collections should be designed to ensure that they do not attract waste which would otherwise be home composted. Information on home composting can be found at http://www.wascot.org.uk/html/compost.asp

4.32 Another option is to use food digesters, which are specifically designed to take domestic food waste. More information on food digesters can be found at http://www.wascot.org.uk/html/compost_how.asp

4.33 A further option is a wormery. Again, more information can be found at http://www.wascot.org.uk/html/compost_worms.asp

Question 22: Do consultees consider that further action could and should be taken to promote home composting, food digesters or wormeries in Scotland? If so, what?