Publication - Impact assessment

Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021: business and regulatory impact assessment - final

Published: 11 Nov 2021

Final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) for the introduction of market restrictions on problematic single-use plastic items as identified in Article 5 of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (EU SUPD).

Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021: business and regulatory impact assessment - final
8.0 Consumer Assessment

8.0 Consumer Assessment

278. This section considers the extent to which the market restrictions may benefit or disadvantage consumers in Scotland. A consumer is defined following the Scottish Government's definition as "anyone who buys goods or digital content, or uses goods or services either in the private or public sector, now or in the future".[92] In this context, this includes end-consumers who use the single-use plastic items in question, either buying them from a retailer, or having them provided by food and drink outlets or retailers in conjunction with the purchase of food and beverages. Consumers may also include individuals and organisations that purchase and/or use the relevant single-use plastic items as part of their business model.

279. The BRIA toolkit sets out the following questions to consider in a consumer assessment:

  • Does the policy affect the quality, availability or price of any goods or services in a market?
  • Does the policy affect the essential services market, such as energy or water?
  • Does the policy involve storage or increased use of consumer data?
  • Does the policy increase opportunities for unscrupulous suppliers to target consumers?
  • Does the policy impact the information available to consumers on either goods or services, or their rights in relation to these?
  • Does the policy affect routes for consumers to seek advice or raise complaints on consumer issues?

Does the policy affect the quality, availability or price of any goods or services in a market?

280. Availability of the relevant single-use plastic items and their most-likely alternatives:

281. The policy will almost entirely restrict the availability of the relevant single-use plastic items.

282. However, the impact on consumers will be mitigated by the following points.

283. Single-use items made of alternative materials are readily available for these products. Alternative items (typically made of paper or wood) are available in Scotland from larger bricks-and-mortar retailers as well as online retailers. There are a number of existing manufacturers of alternative single-use items in Scotland, such as Cullen, Vegware and Eco Pack Scotland, which could respond to higher demand for non-plastic single-use items. In addition, the fact that similar regulations have already been introduced in neighbouring countries means that market demand for—and therefore supply of—alternative items is expected to remain strong.

284. Consumer demand is gradually switching away from all single-use items, and is switching away from single-use plastic items to alternative single-use items. As noted in the Options section, previous research for Defra suggests that demand for single-use items (plastic and alternative) is gradually declining over time. This is driven by rising awareness of the population around the negative effects of single-use items, the desire of businesses to avoid the higher costs of non-plastic single-use alternative products, and a gradual shift towards reusable products. Levels of concern in Scotland about single-use items are already high. A recent survey commissioned by Zero Waste Scotland found that an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland (77 per cent) were very or fairly concerned about the quantity of items designed to be used only once. Still more people (79 per cent) would support the introduction of regulations to reduce the use of single-use items and packaging.[93]

285. In addition, research conducted for Defra suggests that the market share of single-use plastic items compared to alternative single-use items is falling at around 10 percentage points per year in most cases. (The exception is EPS food containers and EPS cups, the share of which is falling by just 1 percentage point annually compared to their most-likely alternatives.)

286. The policy includes exemptions for products where these are provided for medical use and to support independent living. The EU SUPD provides explicit exemptions for straws used for medical purposes.[94] The Scottish Government has recognised that certain single-use plastic items are required for medical purposes or to support independent living.[95] Therefore, the availability of single-use plastic items required for these purposes, specifically single-use plastic straws, will be maintained. Exemptions will also apply for balloon sticks where they are used for professional purposes.

Quality and functionality of alternatives:

287. The impact on consumers in terms of quality and functionality will be minimal.

288. The majority of single-use plastics in scope have alternatives that can be substituted for them without compromising functionality.

289. Research conducted for Defra concluded that despite some stakeholder concerns, alternatives with equivalent functionality for consumers exist for single-use plastic cutlery and plates, and for EPS food containers and cups.[96],[97] Wooden alternatives to single-use plastic beverage stirrers are already widely in use and do not affect functionality.

290. Card-based alternatives to single-use plastic balloon sticks are available. While these may be less durable than their single-use plastic equivalents, there will not be a significant impact on consumers given the short, in-use life of the items. An exemption exists for plastic balloon sticks used and collected for re-use by businesses and professionals.

291. It is acknowledged that no alternative to single-use plastic straws has exactly equivalent functionality—though innovation in this area is ongoing. A study for the Welsh Government identified a lack of readily-available alternatives to single-use straws capable of piercing through the film on drinks cartons/pouches.[98] However, at least two multinational manufacturers in Europe are introducing paper alternatives that are capable of piercing through drinks cartons.[99] Negative impacts on consumers related to supply of single-use plastic straws for drinks cartons/pouches are likely to be short-lived, as the market can respond by creating and adopting better alternatives as noted above, or by changing to another type of container.

292. The Equalities Impact Assessment for this policy change noted several qualities specific to single-use plastic straws which are important to people who require them for medical purposes or to support independent living. However, exemptions are in place to ensure that people with these requirements will continue to have access to single-use plastic straws, so no significant consumer impact is expected in this regard. The Scottish Government is working with stakeholders, including representatives of equalities groups and users of single-use plastic straws, to ensure that the exemption is implemented in a way that respects equality interests and the dignity of those needing to access single-use plastic straws.

Price of alternatives:

293. Consumers may experience a slight increase in the prices they pay for goods and services associated with some of the products in scope. However, the overall price impacts on consumers at an individual level will be very limited, often not noticeable, and sometimes avoidable.

294. At present, three out of seven of the most-likely alternatives are more expensive than the restricted single-use plastic products, as can be seen in Figure 3, below. This shows average per-unit market prices of the restricted single-use plastic items and their most-likely single-use alternatives, collected for the impact assessments of introducing market restrictions on the same single-use plastic items in Wales.

Figure 3: Prices of single-use plastic products and their alternatives

Source: Welsh Government (2020) "Preliminary research to assess the impacts of a ban or restrictions on sale in Wales of items in the EU's Single Use Plastics Directive" Based on online UK wholesalers [100]

295. The per-item cost increases range from £0 to £0.04, so the impact on the typical individual consumer in any given purchase will either be nil or limited. The per-item cost increases range from £0 to £0.04 so the impact on the typical individual consumer in any given purchase will either be nil or limited.

296. The extent to which additional costs will be experienced by consumers will depend on the willingness and ability of individual businesses in the supply chain to absorb them. This depends on factors such as profit margins and market positioning and will vary. For instance, stakeholder interviews conducted for Zero Waste Scotland found that some large retailers with a business model based on low prices would be willing to absorb the difference in price between single-use plastic and alternative items. However, smaller food and drink outlets with tight profit margins may be more likely to pass on costs to consumers.[101] This suggests that in many cases, consumers will be able to avoid additional costs by choosing to shop at retailers or outlets which have absorbed them.

297. Consumers' willingness to pay for non-plastic items may be increased by environmental concerns around the damage caused by single-use plastic items. It was found during telephone interviews with takeaway outlets that one business, in particular, received complaints from customers over the environmental damage caused through their use of EPS food containers. This was a key factor in them switching to alternative items. This factor will vary between different consumers and businesses, but it will be a factor in decision-making around item prices.

298. How noticeable the price increases are to an individual will also depend on the context of the purchase. Where a small number of items are provided along with a food or drink purchase, the additional costs to consumers are 'hidden' and limited. A £2 drink served with a straw would not necessarily see any price increase. A hot drink served in the alternative to a single-use EPS cup would only be around £0.01 more expensive, which is not a noticeable increase. Turning to the item with the biggest absolute per-unit price increase, EPS food containers: a meal for one person requiring up to two containers may increase in price by up to £0.08 when using alternative items, depending how much of the price increase the business is willing to absorb.

299. Cost increases to consumers buying items in bulk from retailers would vary by outlet type. For example, a pack of 20 single-use plates may not change in price if purchased from a budget retailer which prioritises price points for its products.[102] Higher-end retail outlets may be less concerned about price points and, for example, if 100 per cent of the cost increase was passed through, the price for 20 single-use plates would rise from £1.20 to £1.40 for single-use alternatives.

300. The higher cost of some alternative items is likely to incentivise both businesses and consumers to reduce their consumption of these single-use items in general. According to stakeholder interviews conducted for Zero Waste Scotland, some businesses in England found ways to significantly reduce the use of alternative single-use items following the introduction of similar restrictions there (e.g. handing out straws only when asked for them), thereby avoiding the need to pass on additional costs to consumers.

301. Prices are never static, and given rising demand for the alternative single-use items after the restrictions—not just in Scotland, but in countries across Europe which have implemented restrictions based on the EU SUPD—it is reasonable to expect that their prices could fall in coming years, or that other, cheaper alternatives could come onto the market. This would further limit price impacts on consumers.

Does the policy affect the essential services market, such as energy or water?

No.

Does the policy involve storage or increased use of consumer data?

No.

Does the policy increase opportunities for unscrupulous suppliers to target consumers?

No.

Does the policy impact the information available to consumers on either goods or services, or their rights in relation to these?

No

Does the policy affect routes for consumers to seek advice or raise complaints on consumer issues?

No


Contact

Email: supd@gov.scot