Tackling single-use items: independent report

Report from the Expert Panel for Environmental Charging and Other Measures setting out principles that can be used to reduce the dependence on single-use items in society.

Chapter 2: The 5Es 

When designing policy to reduce usage of single-use items, the Expert Panel recommend following five key Principles (5Es): 

1. Essential functions 

2. Evidence 

3. Equality 

4. Engagement 

5. Entire system 

Designing policy to tackle single-use items is complicated, with many factors to consider and trade-offs involved. Following these Principles will ensure holistic policy making and enable informed decisions to be made. The Principles are outlined in Figure 1. The rest of this chapter sets out these Principles in detail.

1. Essential Functions

Is the single-use item essential?

Single-use items deliver many different functions. These include maintaining hygiene, complying with health and safety, keeping food fresh and safe to consume, transporting produce, bundling items together, marketing products to the customer, and enabling food to be consumed. Some of these functions are essential while others are not, for example, multi-pack wrapping is useful but not essential. 

By mapping out why certain products are used, we can see what core functions they deliver. Perhaps more importantly, we can also identify who the function is provided for. Thinking about a single-use item in terms of its functions and uses enables us to identify alternatives and possible interventions. It also brings into view the equalities implications of innovative solutions and alternatives, as well as potential barriers to the solutions being adopted. 

What are the functions of single-use items? 

Single-use items deliver many different functions. Some can be classed as essential, while others are not. 

Examples of essential functions:

  • Protecting an individual’s health and safety 
  • Providing life enhancing functions for disabled people
  • Ensuring the core product can be consumed 
  • Preserving a food product and reducing food waste
  • Preventing damage to another product
Figure 1: The 5Es to help design effective solutions to reducing single-use item consumption
sets out the 5Es as in a interlinked circular graphic to show their connectedness.

Five principles for tackling single-use items

Consumption of single-use items needs to reduce.

EPECOM have outlined 5 key principles above to ensure inclusive and appropriate solutions are develpoed.

2. Evidence

What is known about the problem? 

Evidence-based policy is at the heart of robust decision making. At the outset, ask ‘what do we know about this?’. Using the best available evidence on key issues can reveal the impact (and unintended consequences) of any proposed action.

Evidence building is not a one-off action and should be part of an iterative loop. In this cycle the evidence base is developed and expanded as the policy design process evolves. Each of the other Principles presents a facet of the problem for which evidence and understanding should be gathered.

There are a range of different tools to help gather evidence, including academic reviews, stakeholder engagement, market research, life-cycle assessment and cost-benefit analysis. 

In particular, it is important that sufficient evidence is collected on a range of environmental impacts associated with each solution being considered. These include impact on land use, biodiversity loss, energy, water consumption, and end of life pollution. This will help reduce the risk of replacing a particular single-use item with another which could be more environmentally harmful.

3. Equality

In solving the issue can we ensure equality?

In developing solutions, it is necessary to consider if anyone would be affected unequally and how any negative effects can be mitigated.

Equity ensures that people from all backgrounds have access to the particular products and services that they require. At the same time equality requires that people across society have equal access to things. When taking action on single-use items, it is important to make sure that there is fairness. In terms of equality, this means that any action should make sure that everybody is treated the same. In terms of equity, it means that everybody has access to what they need and should not be denied something that they rely on. There may not be a universal solution and a suite of measures may be required. 

Assessing equality impacts is not a one-off exercise, rather it is an ongoing activity that should be done as you develop your policy proposals. Involving people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences such as gender, age, disability, class, income, and geography from the start of the policy process will help flag issues early on. Start from the assumption that every decision will have an impact, you just may not know it yet. Involve the people who may be affected as they can help you identify unforeseen issues with proposals for change, and help to ensure the policy works for everyone. As the policy develops engagement is an ongoing activity to make sure that this involvement is maintained.

4. Engagement

Who can tell us more about the issue? 

Effective engagement is essential in developing solutions to reduce consumption of single-use items. Engagement can help contribute evidence on issues including essential functions, equality, product design, supply chains, lifecycle impacts and consumer habits. Engagement can also help to identify possible solutions to issues at all stages of the policy design process. Involving relevant stakeholders or representative organisations is therefore an essential element of effective decision making. 

Engagement can take many forms and involve different groups of people. Stakeholders and specialists may have technical knowledge that is required. Similarly, consumers and retailers will know a lot about how an item is used in everyday practice. Each of these views and voices can be very valuable in informing evidence and all should be included in developing policy actions. The best way of engaging with each group of people will differ and care should be taken to identify different groups and engage with each on their own terms.

5. Entire System 

How is single-use reinforced by current practices, habits and infrastructure?

In addition to considering the functions a single-use item performs, it is also important to consider how a single-use item fits within the wider product delivery system. Lifecycle thinking and lifecycle assessment are two tools which can be used to understand the entire system. 

Existing systems can often favour single-use items over reusable options. For example, many on-the-go consumption and business models are built upon single-use items. This makes it difficult to implement an alternative that sits higher up the waste hierarchy, like using reusables. 

Implementing reusable solutions, or eradicating use of some items entirely, may therefore require systemic change. It is only by considering the entire system that the full range of solutions, and their implications, including both intended and unintended consequences, can be identified.

Lifecycle assessment can be conducted to calculate the environmental performance of an item across all its lifecycle stages spanning the entire system of a circular economy. Similarly, a lifecycle thinking approach can be used for considering how a product fits within the entire system. Lifecycle thinking can help understand what happens with an item at every stage of its production and use: how it is made, what it is used for, by whom, and what resources that takes over the course of its lifespan. Lifecycle thinking can also be complimented with cost-benefit analyses to allow for an economic appraisal of options. 

As a result, it is possible to identify what items are avoidable or can be switched to reusables in a certain context.


Email: EPECOM@gov.scot

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