2.0 Purpose and intended effect
2. The EU SUPD proposes action on 10 single-use plastic items that account for approximately 70% of marine litter products found on European beaches. The directive promotes circular approaches and includes a set of ambitious measures to reduce the impact of these single-use plastics items. One of the measures, contained within Article 5 of the Directive, is a restriction on placing selected single-use products on the market.
3. These proposals build on a range of activity already undertaken as Ministers have sought to create a more circular economy which keeps products and materials in high value use for as long as possible.
4. In February 2016, Making Things Last: A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland was published. This overarching strategy integrated the key elements of the Zero Waste Plan and Safeguarding Scotland's Resources and built on Scotland's zero waste and resource efficiency agendas. The strategy set out how a more circular economy would benefit:
- The environment – cutting waste and carbon emissions and reducing reliance on scarce resources.
- The economy – improving productivity, opening up new markets and improving resilience.
- Communities – more, lower cost options to access the goods we need with opportunities for social enterprise.
5. The Scottish Government has acted to address the negative externalities associated with single-use disposable products through the introduction of the single-use carrier bag charge in 2014 and its pending increase; the ban of microbeads in 2018; and the ban of plastic-stemmed cotton buds which came into effect in October 2019. The Scottish Government will also introduce a Scottish Deposit Return Scheme to increase recycling rates and reduce littering of single-use drinks containers. Regulations were passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2020 and the scheme will become operational in due course.
6. The Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures (EPECOM) was formed in May 2018. Its remit was to advise Scottish Ministers on charges or other measures which may be adopted in Scotland with the goal of encouraging the long-term and sustainable changes in consumer and producer behaviour required to move towards a circular economy. In July 2019 the Expert Panel set out its recommendations to tackle the dependence on, and environmental impact of, single-use disposable beverage cups in Scotland. Included in its recommendations was support for the commitment within the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive to ban expanded polystyrene beverage cups by 2021. The group published a second report Ending the Throwaway Culture: Five Principles for Tackling Single-use Items in September 2020.
2.2 Objective and rationale
7. The Scottish Government proposes to introduce legislation which introduces market restrictions on specific disposable single-use plastic products. The evidence summarised in this document will be used to inform the policy-making process.
8. Potential non-plastic alternatives that exist for the specified single-use products have been identified as part of the BRIA process. Targeted exemptions to the market restrictions to support independent living and provide access to single use plastic items where necessary for medical needs have been included in the draft regulations. Those exemptions will be considered in the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) which accompanies this BRIA.
9. When disposed of incorrectly, single-use plastic products end up in our rivers, lochs, and seas and cause significant harm to the marine environment as well as to the public's enjoyment of Scotland's natural landscapes. The disposable single-use plastic products specified in this impact assessment are some of the most commonly-found products of plastic litter washed up on Scotland's shores.
10. Scotland has significant water resources including: 18,743 km of coastline, 125,500 km of rivers and 25,500 lochs. These resources are vitally important in a number of areas as they support a variety of wildlife, tourism and recreation and provide domestic and commercial water supplies.
11. Once in the environment plastic litter can persist for hundreds of years causing enormous harm to ecosystems. Impacts include mortality or sub-lethal effects on plants and animals through entanglement, physical damage, and it can enter food chains when ingested. When plastic enters the marine environment it eventually breaks down into microplastics which have the potential to accelerate accumulation of chemicals throughout the food chain, with potential negative impacts on human and animal health. Most plastic waste eventually comes to rest on the seabed and in doing so can facilitate the invasion of alien species.
12. Chemicals added during the manufacture of plastics can enhance durability, act as a colorant, plasticizer, stabilizer or increase flame retardancy. Some of these chemicals are classified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs) and will further harm terrestrial and marine life if ingested as microplastics.
13. For context, plastic decomposes around 100 times more slowly than a biodegradable material such as paper. Some plastic items can last for a few decades, whereas others may last for over 500 years. Table 1 below demonstrates the comparison of decomposition times between plastics and biodegradable materials.
Table 1: Decomposition rates of plastics and biodegradable materials
Item / Decomposition rate
- Paper towel / 2-4 weeks
- Newspaper / 6 weeks
- Wax carton / 3 months
- Plywood / 1-3 years
- Plastic grocery bag / 10-20 years
- Styrofoam cup / 50 years
- Plastic beverage bottle / 450 years
- Fishing line / 600 years
14. It is expected that market restrictions on a range of single-use disposable products will:
- Reduce the volume of plastic waste created.
- Reduce the amount of plastic waste entering Scotland's rivers, lochs and seas.
- Reduce the number of products littered where reusable substitutes exist.
- Encourage wider behaviour change around material choice.
15. Achieving these strategic objectives will help Scotland progress towards its 2025 waste targets, accelerating Scotland's transition from a 'linear' economy which is environmentally unsustainable and energy- and resource-intensive to a more resource-efficient and sustainable circular economy.
16. With reference to the National Performance Framework, directly applicable strategic objectives are:
- We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect it and enhance it for future generations.
- We reduce the local and global environmental impact of our consumption and production.
17. Directly applicable from the Measurement Set are:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Improve Scotland's reputation.
- Improve people's perceptions of their neighbourhood.
- Improve the condition of protected nature sites.
- Increase natural capital.
- Improve the state of Scotland's marine environment.
- Reduce Scotland's carbon footprint.
- Reduce waste generated.
18. Enacting market restrictions on specific single-use plastic products will contribute to objectives set out in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019.
19. The Climate Change Plan: Third RPP 2018-2032 was published in February 2018 and sets out plans to achieve decarbonisation of the economy in the period to 2032, making progress towards the target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. An update to the Climate Change Plan was published in December 2020.
20. In 2015, the Scottish Government signed up to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The ambition behind the goals is to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Market restrictions on the specified single-use plastic products will have a positive impact on a number of these goals, most explicitly Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15:
- Responsible Consumption and Production.
- Climate Action.
- Life Below Water.
- Life on Land.
21. Finally, enacting market restrictions on specific single-use plastic products will contribute to the Green Recovery Plan objectives set out in Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland, the Government's Programme for Scotland 2020-21:
"We will ensure our rural economy and Scotland's rich natural resources and biodiversity are central to our economic, environmental, and social wellbeing."