6.0 Scottish Firms Impact Test
125. The Scottish Firms Impact Test considers the impact of the market restrictions on specific single-use plastic items on key sectors and groups by consulting relevant businesses and business associations, representing businesses of varying sizes and from different sectors.
126. The table below summarises the businesses interviewed for the Scottish Firms Impact Test. The stakeholders were selected to represent the breadth of the sectors and activities potentially affected by the restrictions along the supply chain.
Table 9: Summary of organisations interviewed for the Scottish Firms Impact Test
Food and Drink Federation Scotland (FDF Scotland)
Membership body for food and drink manufacturers
Food and drink
Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA), and the following members:
- Braehead Foods
- Dunn's Food & Drinks
Trade association for food and drink wholesalers in Scotland
Wholesalers; Food and drink
Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Associates (BBIA)
Trade association representing producers of biodegradable polymers and end-products
British Plastics Federation (BPF)
Trade association representing the UK plastics industry
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
Business organisation representing small businesses across the country
127. In addition to engaging with the stakeholders listed in the table above, Zero Waste Scotland undertook a telephone survey with a sample of Scottish takeaway outlets in late May 2021. A summary of the views expressed is presented at the end of this section.
6.1 Scottish Firms Impact Test results
128. Below we summarise the responses given by the stakeholders interviewed for each of the twelve core questions that were developed for the Scottish Firms Impact Test. These interviews were conducted as part of the development of the final BRIA.
129. Question 1 "The Scottish Government is currently consulting on legislation aimed at restricting the sale of specific single-use plastic items in Scotland. Are you supportive of the introduction of these restrictions? Why (not)? Please give your reasons."
130. Generally supportive of restrictions Two respondents (BBIA and FDF Scotland) stated that they were generally supportive of the proposed market restrictions. FDF Scotland cited aligning Scottish policy with the EU Single Use Plastics Directive (SUP Directive) as a reason for its views.
131. Supportive of restrictions with some concerns
Concerns over impact on small businesses One organisation (FSB) noted that while it understood the general objectives of the market restrictions and their importance for advancing the circular economy, at the same time it noted some concerns around the potential impacts on smaller businesses who may rely more on single-use plastics in their operations than their larger counterparts. Further, as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were still being felt by businesses, it noted that consideration should be given to allowing businesses, and in particular small businesses, time to recover from the effects of the pandemic and crisis, for example through a moratorium on new legislation affecting small businesses.
Concerns that definitions could limit alternative options SWA also noted that the proposals included items with plastic or bioplastic lining, as well as bio-based and compostable plastic items. The SWA was of the view that if these were banned, it would limit availability of alternatives. (Note: the items listed here are all considered to be single-use plastic items, not alternatives, under this proposal as well as the SUP Directive.)
132. Question 2 "In your opinion how has the use of single-use plastic items covered by the market restrictions changed over recent years (e.g. in the last 5 years)? How would you expect the use of these items to change in the next 5-10 years in the absence of the market restrictions being introduced?"
133. Over recent years there has been a shift away from single-use plastic items Four organisations (BBIA, FDF Scotland, FSB and SWA) noted that there had been a shift away from single-use plastic items to alternatives. BPF did not have a view on market trends.
134. Larger businesses have seen a greater shift to alternative products Two organisations (FSB and SWA) reported observing a split between smaller and larger organisations in terms of the shift to alternative, non-plastic products (including re-usable items), with larger businesses generally seeing a greater shift.
135. The decline in the use of single-use plastic items is driven by both consumers and businesses
FDF Scotland noted that businesses tended to respond to consumer needs, whether or not this led to environmentally-friendly outcomes. Pressures such as branding, ethical considerations and the introduction of similar measures in other parts of the UK were identified as factors potentially driving the decline in the use of single-use plastics on consumers' side.
The SWA noted that the shift away from single-use plastics was also affected by business decisions, for example, to stock and invest in what are viewed as more environmentally-friendly products. BBIA stated that consumer and retail pressure both played an important role in disincentivising the use of plastics, especially where these were readily substitutable.
136. The COVID-19 pandemic may impact demand for single-use items Two stakeholders (FSB and BPF) suggested that the current COVID-19 pandemic may have altered the downward trend in the use of single-use plastic items, though did not provide evidence in support of this assertion. (Note: there is insufficient evidence at present to assess trends in single-use items during Covid, or to forecast future post-Covid trends.)
137. Question 3 "In your opinion what will be the biggest potential impacts (both costs and benefits) of introducing the market restrictions on your business or on those which you represent? Which businesses, in your opinion, will be most affected by the restrictions? Please provide evidence where possible."
138. Concerns around the additional costs of manufacturing alternative items are limited, as the market has already started to adjust One organisation (FDF Scotland) believed that for food and drink businesses, the cost impacts associated with changing manufacturing and production processes were likely to be the biggest potential impacts. However, in response to Question 4, it further stated that some of its larger members had already taken mitigating steps in response to the SUP Directive, suggesting that further impacts may be limited. The BPF noted that the impacts were likely to be limited for its members, including EPS manufacturers, as there was not a big manufacturing sector in the UK.
139. Smaller businesses have concerns about additional costs of alternative products The FSB stated that the most significant impact on its members was likely to be costs related to higher prices, as alternative single-use items were generally more expensive than single-use plastics. The FSB noted that these additional costs may be passed onto customers. (These concerns are addressed in the Competition Assessment section).
140. Businesses dependent on single-use plastic items, including the hospitality sector, likely to be most affected The FSB was of the view that businesses producing or relying on single-use plastic items within the scope of the restrictions would experience the biggest impacts. The FSB highlighted the impact on the hospitality sector, which made use of most of the products in question.
141. Some firms which produce single-use items marketed as alternatives to conventional plastic may also be affected Two organisations (BBIA and SWA) noted that due to the proposed list of single-use plastic products to be restricted (which are in line with the SUP Directive), some firms which produce single-use products marketed as environmentally-friendly alternatives to conventional single-use plastic products may also be affected. This included businesses whose product range includes some items made fully or partially from compostable plastic, which fall within the scope of the market restrictions, though industry has tended to market them as alternatives to plastic.
142. Customers may face higher costs as a result of the restrictions One respondent (BPF) suggested that consumers may be most affected by the restrictions, as the increased costs to businesses resulting from the higher price of alternatives, could be passed onto consumers. These concerns are addressed in the Consumer Impact section.
143. Question 4 "Has your business or have the businesses you represent taken any steps to mitigate any anticipated impacts or costs associated with the market restrictions? If so, please expand your answer."
144. Some larger food and drink businesses have already taken mitigating steps One respondent (FDF Scotland) stated that some of its members had already taken mitigating actions in response to the market restrictions. FDF Scotland explained that these actions had—at least in part—been motivated by the introduction of the SUP Directive, which had led some larger firms to start adapting their production processes elsewhere in Europe. Given the complexity around supply chains, these changes would also affect the Scottish market.
145. No mitigating steps taken, or none known Four organisations (BBIA, FSB, SWA and BPF) stated that the organisations they represent either had not taken any mitigating steps or that they were not aware of such actions. The FSB noted that mitigation was unlikely to be a top priority for businesses, since due to COVID-19 most small businesses were focused on survival. In addition, it suggested that there was probably not much awareness around the market restrictions. Nonetheless, it noted that some individual businesses could have taken mitigating steps. Similarly, the SWA was not aware of any mitigating steps taken, citing lack of clarity regarding the scope of legislation. However, it noted that businesses may have started to bring in more environmentally-friendly containers. BPF was not aware of significant mitigating steps that had been taken among the limited number of EPS manufacturers in the UK.
146. Question 5 "Does your organisation or association have specific concerns on how the restrictions might impact businesses in more remote areas of Scotland? Please expand on your answer."
147. Small businesses in remote areas may struggle to deal with additional costs on top of existing delivery charges FSB stated that small businesses in more remote areas of Scotland would be in a weaker position to absorb any additional costs associated with the market restrictions, as they already faced higher delivery charges than businesses in less remote areas. Any potential impacts on more remote areas in Scotland will be addressed in the Island Communities Impact Assessment that accompanies this BRIA.
148. No concerns FDF Scotland did not have any specific concerns affecting businesses in more remote areas of Scotland, as the alternative items replacing single-use plastic items would go through existing supply chains.
149. No fixed view Two respondents (BBIA and BPF) did not express a view on how businesses in more remote areas may be affected by the restrictions.
150. Question 6 "To what extent do you expect the market restrictions to put your business, or those which you represent, at a disadvantage, nationally or internationally? Please provide evidence where possible."
151. No disadvantage nationally or internationally Three organisations (FDF Scotland, FSB and BBIA) stated that the introduction of market restrictions was unlikely to put Scottish firms at a disadvantage either nationally or internationally, as similar restrictions were being considered and implemented in other parts of the UK (England and Wales) and in the EU. Similarly, the SWA noted that the restrictions would only put wholesalers at a disadvantage if no similar restrictions were introduced in the rest of the UK. This was because if restrictions were only introduced in Scotland with the rest of the UK unaffected, then manufacturers may decide not to produce and supply alternative, non-plastic single-use products for wholesalers operating in Scotland.
152. Restrictions could somewhat disadvantage the UK plastics industry The BPF commented that the introduction of market restrictions should avoid penalising plastic single-use items without a detailed analysis of the potential detrimental environmental impacts of the alternatives, to avoid the restrictions unfairly disadvantaging the UK plastics industry.
153. Question 7 "Do you have any concerns about these restrictions affecting competition amongst your suppliers, or those of the businesses which you represent? If so, could you elaborate?"
154. Some concerns around smaller producers One organisation (FDF Scotland) noted that the restrictions may affect small producers more than larger ones. Further, it suggested that smaller manufacturers attaching straws to carton soft drink boxes could be particularly affected.
155. No concerns Two respondents (BBIA and SWA) did not state any concerns regarding how the restrictions may affect competition amongst suppliers.
156. No fixed view Two organisations (FSB and BPF) did not have a particular view about how the restrictions may affect competition amongst suppliers. The BPF noted that it did not foresee a big impact on competition within the UK plastics industry.
157. Question 8 "When the market restrictions come into force, will your business or the businesses you represent switch to alternative products, or do you anticipate stopping the use, sale or production of the products affected by the restrictions altogether? What alternative products will you be producing, using or selling instead of single-use plastics? Please expand your answer."
158. A significant switch to alternative products Three organisations (BBIA, FDF Scotland and BPF) noted that once the restrictions were in force, there would be a significant shift to alternatives such as paper. Nonetheless, the BBIA noted that these alternatives would also need some form of lining to ensure that they provided appropriate grease and moisture protection.
159. Switch depends on the alternatives available The SWA noted that the extent of the switch would depend on what the available alternatives were once the restrictions came into force. For example, it noted that some businesses may use bagasse instead of plastic, but single-use items usually required some form of plastic lining.
160. Extent of the switch will vary by nature of business The FSB was of the view that the extent to which businesses would switch to using alternative products would vary across different types of business. For example, take-away restaurants and businesses serving people on the go would need to provide alternative single-use items to customers buying food and drink, while businesses involved in home delivery would have the option to ask customers whether or not some of these products were needed, reducing their overall use.
161. Question 9 "If your business or the businesses you represent will be substituting single-use plastic items covered by the restrictions with alternative products (as part of your sales or production), how quickly do you expect this transition to take place? Do you anticipate any difficulties prior to or during this transition? Please expand your answer."
162. Short transition period One organisation (BBIA) was of the view that the industry had the capacity to transition quickly, in a matter of months, once the restrictions were introduced.
163. Grace period needed to allow businesses to sell existing stock Three organisations (FDF Scotland, FSB, and SWA) did not have a fixed view on how long the transition from single-use plastic items to alternatives may last. Both FDF Scotland and the FSB noted that businesses affected by the restrictions would need time to sell their existing stocks of single-use plastic items. Both organisations were in favour of introducing a grace period, in particular for small companies.
164. No specific views on transition period The BPF had no specific views around transition times as it did not have many members involved in the manufacturing or use of these items.
165. Question 10 "If you are planning to switch to alternative products, do you expect final consumers to notice the change and adjust their purchasing behaviour as a result of the change? For example, would you expect them to buy less (e.g. because of reduced convenience) or more (because of increased environmental friendliness) of the final product or be willing to pay less or more for it?"
166. Consumers likely to notice change; reaction may depend on performance of alternatives Two respondents (FDF Scotland and BPF) cited anecdotal evidence around the alternative straws already on the market as evidence that consumers were likely to notice and adjust their purchasing behaviour in response to a switch to alternatives. FDF Scotland noted that the carton straws introduced by McDonald's did not receive positive feedback from customers initially.
167. Changes in consumer behaviour would depend on price impacts Two organisations (FSB and BPF) noted that the extent to which consumers would notice the change and adjust their purchasing behaviour may depend on the price impacts of the switch to alternatives.
168. Media campaigns could help consumers to adjust The FSB considered that appropriate media campaigns were needed to ensure that customers understood why the change was happening and what the change would mean for them (for example, which single-use plastic items would no longer be available). It believed that such campaigns would ease the transition for consumers and businesses alike.
169. No fixed view One organisation (BBIA) did not have any specific views on how consumers may change their behaviour as a result of the restrictions.
170. Question 11 "What unintended consequences do you anticipate for your business or the businesses you represent as a result of the restrictions?"
171. Ensuring access to single-use plastic products by vulnerable customers The BBIA noted potential issues around ensuring that vulnerable customers reliant on single-use plastic items, such as straws, for medical reasons would continue to be able to access these. For example, the BBIA thought that linking medical straws to prescriptions may help to ensure that vulnerable customers could continue to be served. (This issue has been addressed in the Equalities Impact Assessment.)
172. Increased environmental impacts The BPF noted that one potential unintended consequence could be a bigger environmental impact, for example if alternatives were less recyclable and had a higher footprint. Further, the BPF also commented that consumers may assume that biodegradable materials were safer for the environment, and therefore these items may be more likely to be littered. (See the Strategic Environmental Assessment for information on this point.)
173. Finally, the businesses interviewed were also given the chance to add anything that was not covered by the questions above.
174. The following additional considerations emerged:
175. Need to evaluate the cumulative burden and cost of the policy: FDF Scotland noted that when the market restrictions were introduced, any assessment would need to look at the cumulative burden and cost of this and other related policies which may have impacted similar groups of stakeholders, for example the Scottish deposit return scheme.
176. Scope to find suitable alternative products: The SWA noted that the introduction of market restrictions would need to give enough scope for the businesses and sectors affected to find suitable alternatives to single-use plastic products. It was keen for the restrictions to align with the EU SUPD, and also suggested considering the examples of Italy and Portugal, which have exempted more compostable single-use plastic items when implementing the EU SUPD. (Note: the research for this BRIA and the Strategic Environmental Assessment identified suitable alternatives for all the items without including compostable single-use plastics.)
6.2 Supplementary business research on EPS food containers
177. In addition to the business consultation, a telephone survey of Scottish takeaway outlets was conducted to provide insight into the switch away from EPS food containers to most-likely alternatives. This supplementary research was conducted owing to the importance of EPS food container prices, and the prices of their alternatives, to the overall cost impact of the proposed policy change.
178. In total, 47 takeaway outlets were contacted in various locations across Scotland. There was a relatively low response rate but 7 agreed to share information on their use of food containers. The respondents were a mix of takeaway owners, managers, and staff. Therefore, the applicability of certain questions varied from outlet to outlet.
179. Question 1. "Were you aware of the ban on EPS food containers due to come into force in 2022?"
180. In response, 4 out of the 7 takeaways were aware of the ban and had considered some of the implications for their business.
181. Question 2. "What materials do you use for your takeaway food containers?"
182. The 2 takeaways that were using EPS for all their products had never used non-plastic alternatives. 5 takeaways were using non-plastic alternative products of a range of materials including cardboard, bagasse, and other biodegradable materials.
183. Of the 5 takeaways which were using alternative materials:
- 1 takeaway said they used biodegradable boxes for fish and chicken meals but clear plastic tubs for curries and other liquids.
- 1 takeaway said they had been using EPS previously but switched to alternatives in the past 6-8 weeks.
- 1 takeaway said it used biodegradable boxes from a leading supplier of bagasse containers and had never used EPS. Every single-use item sold was (as far as possible) biodegradable material including cutlery and ice cream tubs.
- 1 takeaway said it used recycled cardboard boxes for food containers and had never used EPS.
- 1 takeaway said it used biodegradable boxes only.
184. Question 3. "Have you looked at what alternative food containers might be suitable for your business?"
185. One of the 2 takeaways who were currently using EPS was able to provide information on what alternative products might be available for their business. They stated that "bio-boxes" were the most suitable alternatives for EPS, as others, made from basic cardboard for example, were not a suitable replacement for EPS in terms of functionality.
186. Question 4. "What do you typically pay for your EPS food containers and how does this compare with the price for non-EPS alternatives?"
187. The takeaways contacted were reluctant to reveal specific data on the prices paid due to the commercially sensitive nature of this information, but 3 out of 7 respondents said that non-EPS containers were more expensive. One respondent, who used to use EPS and has recently switched to biodegradable containers, indicated that for his business, paper/card-based food containers were around twice the price of equivalent EPS containers.
188. In addition to specific information on container prices, 3 takeaways commented on the extent to which any additional costs could be passed onto consumers if there was a switch in container type. One respondent said that it would pass on the price of an increase in container costs by 5-10p per meal. One takeaway said it would not pass on any price increase to consumers, as it saw meal prices as being exclusive of packaging prices and would therefore absorb the cost. One takeaway said that they would expect the cost of meals to rise somewhat from a change from EPS to alternative containers but were not concerned about the impact on their levels of business of profitability.
189. Three takeaways cited environmental concerns in relation to EPS containers. One takeaway (which used only EPS containers) was supportive of the policy as they wanted to help the environment and disliked the litter impact of EPS containers in the area surrounding their business. One takeaway (which formerly used EPS containers) stated that it had switched to alternative products due to customer complaints about the environmental impact of EPS containers. One takeaway (which formerly used EPS containers) said they had made the switch to alternative products as the business owner wanted to help the environment by doing so.
190. Two respondents expressed an opinion on the proposed policy. One said that it didn't have any issues with the policy itself but hoped that the Scottish Government would provide financial support to small businesses such as their own to alleviate any potential negative impacts on business. One said it was not concerned about any potential negative impacts of the policy.