The Scottish Government is seeking views on the introduction of new legislation to restrict the supply of eight single-use plastic items and all oxo-degradable products, in Scotland, with the intended effect of reducing the volume and impact of plastic pollution within terrestrial and marine environments.
The single-use plastic items targeted by these proposed measures have been identified as being amongst the most commonly found items in beaches throughout the European Union and as such are responsible for extensive and enduring plastic pollution across Scotland and beyond.
A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the proposed market restrictions is being undertaken to assess its likely significant environmental effects and identify ways to enhance environmental benefits and minimise or avoid environmental harms. The findings are provided in this Environmental Report (ER). This Non-Technical Summary (NTS) provides an overview of the Environmental Report produced as part of the SEA of the proposed market restrictions.
This Environmental Report presents the findings of the SEA for consultation. The following sections of this NTS:
- provide an overview of the policy context for the proposed market restrictions;
- describe the SEA process together with how it is being applied to proposed market restrictions;
- describe the approach to undertaking the SEA;
- summarise the findings of the SEA on the relevant topic areas;
- present the conclusions and recommendations of the SEA.
What does the restriction of single-use plastic products placed on the market in Scotland mean?
Single-use items are generally discarded immediately after initial use and are therefore an inefficient use of valuable resources. Single-use plastic items are prevalent due to low cost and convenience, performing a required task at a required time, before immediately being discarded. Plastic has a significant degradation period, taking many years to break down. When such degradation does occur, plastic does not biodegrade, but rather breaks up into smaller and smaller fragments referred to as microplastics, which are known to leak into, and persist within the environment.
The proposed market restrictions would prohibit by law, the supply of certain single-use plastic items and all oxo-degradable plastic products in Scotland. The single-use and oxo-degradable plastic items in scope are consistent with those listed in EU Single-use Plastics Directive Annex Part B, as follows:
2. Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks);
4. Straws, except if they fall within the scope of Directive 90/385/EEC or Directive 93/42/EEC;
5. Beverage stirrers;
6. Sticks to be attached to and to support balloons, except balloons for industrial or other professional uses and applications that are not distributed to consumers, including the mechanisms of such sticks;
7. Food containers made of expanded polystyrene, i.e. receptacles such as boxes, with or without a cover, used to contain food which:
a. is intended for immediate consumption, either on-the-spot or take-away,
b. is typically consumed from the receptacle, and
c. is ready to be consumed without any further preparation, such as cooking, boiling or heating, including food containers used for fast food or other meal ready for immediate consumption, except beverage containers, plates and packets and wrappers containing food;
8. Beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, including their caps and lids;
9. Cups for beverages made of expanded polystyrene, including their covers and lids.
A market restriction has already been implemented in Scotland in respect of plastic-stemmed cotton buds, in keeping with the requirements of the Directive.
As stated, the restriction on the specified plastic products will be extended to oxo-degradable plastics, which are defined under Article 3(3) of the Single-use Plastics Directive as being;
'plastic materials that include additives which, through oxidation, lead to the fragmentation of the plastic material into micro-fragments or to chemical decomposition'.
These materials are included within the scope of the proposed measures as they have potential to cause widespread harm across several topic areas, as is discussed throughout this Environmental Report.
The proposed market restrictions have the intended effect of reducing plastic and microplastic waste and resultant pollution within the landscape, ecosystems and habitats of Scotland.
What is Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)?
SEA is a statutory requirement under the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, to assess the likely significant environmental effects that a public plan, programme or strategy will have on the environment if implemented. The process identifies how environmental damage can be avoided or reduced by suggesting how it can be changed. It also allows the public to give their view on the programme and its potential environmental impacts. SEA is comprised of five key stages:
1. Screening - determining whether a plan requires a SEA;
2. Scoping - establishing significant environmental topics, setting the environmental baseline and consulting through a Scoping Report;
3. Environmental Assessment - assessing and recording the potential environmental impact of the plan and consulting on the likely significant effects of the draft plan and Environmental Report;
4. Post Adoption Statement (PAS) - undertaking a public consultation exercise on the Environmental Report and developing the monitoring strategy to assess progress once adopted;
5. Monitoring - making the final decision on how or whether to proceed with the proposed activity, plan or strategy, informing the public about that decision and monitoring the effects of implementation.
A combined screening and scoping report was submitted to statutory consultees for a 4-week consultation period which ended on 21 September 2020. The environmental assessment has been amended based on the recommendations received. This is documented in Appendix A.
The proposed market restrictions are set out in the consultation document, published alongside the SEA Environmental Report. The responses received and findings of the SEA will help inform the final outcome and will be reflected upon in the Post Adoption Statement.
Scottish Government will monitor the implementation and environmental effects resulting from implementing restrictions on single-use plastic items on the Scottish market.
How have the environmental effects of the restriction of single-use plastic items placed on the market in Scotland been assessed?
The activities associated with introducing market restrictions on single-use plastic items have been analysed to identify and evaluate (where applicable) the likely significant effects that could arise from the implementation of any restrictions. The effects of the proposed market restrictions have been considered with respect to the following topic areas that have been scoped into the SEA following the scoping stage: material assets, biodiversity, climatic factors, soil, and landscape and visual impacts.
This environmental assessment has adopted a single tier approach to consider the significant effects associated with the implementation of the proposed market restrictions in relation to each of the five aforementioned SEA topic areas identified. The assessment questions have been developed to ensure that the SEA focuses on significant environmental impacts relevant to each scoped in topic area.
The assessment questions for this SEA are presented in Table NTS 1 below.
Table NTS 1 SEA assessment questions
SEA Topic Area: Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna
Will it protect and/or enhance designated nature conservation sites e.g. Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas, Sites of Special Scientific Importance, Ancient Woodlands, Marine Protected Areas and Ramsar Sites?
Will it support the protection and enhancement of terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems, including species and habitats, and their interactions?
Will it help avoid pollution of the terrestrial, coastal and marine environments?
SEA Topic Area: Climatic Factors
Will the alternative option contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated in Scotland?
SEA Topic Area: Material Assets
Will it contribute towards achieving Scotland's waste targets?
Will it increase the economic value and utility of affected materials?
Will it reduce 'leakage' of material to landfill or energy recovery or as litter?
SEA Topic Area: Soil
Will the proposal contribute to reducing levels of soil contamination?
SEA Topic Area: Landscape and Visual Impacts
Will the alternative option reduce the visual effects from littering of materials into terrestrial and marine environments and improve their scenic qualities?
What are the likely significant environmental effects of the restriction of single-use plastic items placed on the market in Scotland?
Table NTS 2 presents a summary of proposed measures against SEA topic areas scoped into this analysis, namely material assets, biodiversity, climatic factors, soil, and landscape and visual impacts. The assessment provides commentary on any likely significant positive and negative effects and was identified as follows:
- No cumulative significant negative effects have been identified during the assessment. The proposed market restrictions are expected to generate an additional 1,440 tonnes of waste as we shift from plastics to heavier alternatives (e.g. cardboard and wood). This amounts to a 0.001% increase in total Scottish waste and is therefore deemed insignificant. The proposed measures do not require additional infrastructure facilities or major changes to the way waste is collected and managed in Scotland.
- No significant cumulative positive effects associated with the proposed measures have been identified. Our analysis shows that the proposed measures will generate cumulative positive effects in respect of climatic factors (achieving carbon savings of 6,188 tonnes CO2e.), landscape/visual impacts and biodiversity related to reduced littering. The magnitude of these positive effects is unlikely to be significant when compared to major waste policies being implemented in Scotland (e.g. ban on landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste and deposit return scheme).
Other Environmental Effects
The assessment presented in the Environmental Report has demonstrated that effects associated with proposed measures on, air, water, population, human health, and cultural heritage are unlikely to be significant. This principally reflects the nature of proposed measures and target materials. See Section 3.2.3 for further details.
The key to each assessment score is shown below.
++ : Significant positive effect
+ : Minor positive effect
0 : No overall effect
- : Minor negative effect
-- : Significant negative effect
? : Score uncertain
NB: where more than one symbol is presented in a box it indicates that the SEA has found more than one score for the category. Where the scores are both positive and negative, the boxes are deliberately not coloured (i.e. 'no overall effect'). Where a box is coloured but also contains a "?" this indicates uncertainty over whether the effect could be a minor or significant effect although a professional judgement is expressed in the colour used. A conclusion of uncertainty arises where there is insufficient evidence for expert judgement to conclude an effect.
|Measure No.||Single-use plastic item||Alternative option||Material Assets||Climatic Factors||Landscape and Visual Impacts||Biodiversity, flora and fauna||Soil|
|1||Cutlery||Wooden Cutlery||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Significant positive effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect|
|2||Plates||Wax-coated Paper Plates||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Significant positive effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect|
|3||Beverage Stirrer||Wooden Stirrer||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect|
|4||Straws||Wax-line Paper Straws||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Significant positive effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect|
|5||Balloon sticks||Cardboard Balloon Sticks||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect|
|6||Food containers made of expanded polystyrene||Wax-coated Cardboard Boxes||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Significant positive effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect|
|7||Cups and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene||Plastic-coated paper cups||Minor negative effect / Score uncertain||Minor negative effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain|
|8||Oxo-degradable plastics||Conventional plastics||No overall effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect||No overall effect||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain||Minor positive effect / Score uncertain|
How can potential environmental effects be effectively managed, mitigated or enhanced?
A number of measures have been identified to enhance the environmental benefits of the proposed market restrictions and are outlined within the relevant sections. Key recommendations are:
- Encourage citizens to eliminate single-use items in favour of multi-use reusable alternatives;
- Ensure recycling infrastructure is available to capture and recycle non-plastic alternatives; and
- Design an awareness campaign to ensure that citizens are well informed about new measures and the best recycling route for alternative items.
What monitoring is proposed?
Section 19 of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 requires the Responsible Authority, being the Scottish Government, to monitor significant environmental effects of the implementation of market restrictions on certain single-use plastic and all oxo-degradable plastic items in Scotland. This will require development of a monitoring framework that will require consideration of the following:
- Litter and beach clean-up data collected in Scotland can be used to monitor changes in observable litter following the implementation of the proposed market restrictions.
- Existing monitoring could be used to measure volumes of microplastics in soil.
- Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) could monitor throughput to determine any changes to plastic waste volume over time.
Monitoring proposals are explored in more detail in Section 10.2; however, these are not exhaustive. It is anticipated that as newer monitoring programmes are developed, these may be used to gather further data in relation to the effects of the proposed market restrictions across all relevant topic areas.
What were the conclusions and recommendations of the SEA?
The Environmental Report concludes that the proposed market restrictions will have positive cumulative environmental effect across all relevant impact areas. Specifically, shifting production and consumption from plastic to alternative, primarily biodegradable, materials will:
- Climatic Factors - reduce embedded carbon impacts associated with targeted items.
- Material Assets - reduce overall consumption of finite fossil fuel resources.
- Landscape and Visual - reduce the cumulative impacts of litter caused by long-life plastics.
- Biodiversity - reduce the amount of plastic entering and degrading in terrestrial and marine environmental where it poses a threat to flora and fauna.
- Soil - reduce the amount of plastic entering and degrading within soil.
The report proposes using a combination of litter and beach clean, waste composition, and soil sampling data to monitor and verify these expected benefits.
The report also acknowledges that additional, parallel measures are needed to prevent single-use consumption and help Scotland transition from a throw-away society.
How can I comment on this Environmental Report?
Public views are now sought on the proposed market restrictions and on this Environmental Report.
We would welcome your views on any aspect of this Environmental Report. We are particularly interested to receive your response to the following questions:
1. To what extent does the Environmental Report set out an accurate description of the current baseline and the business as usual scenario? (Please give details of additional relevant sources)
2. Do you think that the Environmental Report has correctly identified the likely significant effects of the proposed restriction on single-use and oxo-degradable plastics placed on the market in Scotland?
3. Do you agree with the recommendations and proposals for mitigation and enhancement of the environmental effects set out in the Environmental Report? (If not, what do you think should be the key recommendations and why?)
4. Are you aware of any further information that will help to inform the findings of the assessment? (Please give details of additional relevant sources.)
5. Do you agree with the proposed arrangements for monitoring the significant effects of the proposed restriction? (If not, what measures do you propose?)
The consultation runs until 4 January 2021. Comments on the proposed market restrictions and the Environmental Report can be submitted online on the Introducing Market Restrictions on Problematic Single-use Plastic Items in Scotland Citizen Space.
Following the conclusion of the consultation period, the responses received on the proposed market restrictions and this Environmental Report will be analysed and reported. Key messages from respondents, including those of the various stakeholder groups, will be highlighted and the findings of the analysis will be considered in the final determination of the proposed market restrictions.