Publication - Impact assessment

EU single use plastics directive consultation: impact assessment - environmental report

Environmental report for a consultation on the introduction of new legislation to restrict the supply of seven 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.

146 page PDF

1.9 MB

146 page PDF

1.9 MB

EU single use plastics directive consultation: impact assessment - environmental report
2. Market Restriction of Single-Use Plastic items being placed on the market in Scotland

146 page PDF

1.9 MB

2. Market Restriction of Single-Use Plastic items being placed on the market in Scotland

This section provides an overview of SUP Directive Article 5. It outlines: those single-use and oxo-degradable plastic products that fall within its scope; the context for the Scottish Government's decision to introduce market restrictions on single-use and oxo-degradable plastics; and the development of the consultation paper.

2.1 EU Single-Use Plastics Directive - Article 5

Article 5 introduces a restriction on the placing of certain single-use plastics onto the market, stating: "Member States shall prohibit the placing on the market of the products listed in Part B of the Directive's Annex and of products made from oxo-degradable plastic". The Directive Annex Part B details nine categories of single-use plastic products planned for market prohibition. The products identified in the SUP Directive are subject to a range of measures including consumption reduction initiatives, market restrictions, product and marking requirements, extended-producer responsibility schemes, separate collection targets and awareness raising.

The single-use plastic products listed in part B of the Annex are:

1. Cotton bud sticks, except if they fall within the scope of Council Directive 90/385/EEC[14] or Council Directive 93/42/EEC;[15]

2. Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks);

3. Plates;

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. The Scottish Government is committed to placing market restrictions on other single-use plastics items and on all oxo-degradable products identified in Article of the SUP Directive and intends to introduce the required Regulations in 2021. This would mean that, from this date, businesses will not be permitted to supply these items to end users (customers) in Scotland, irrespective of whether those businesses intend to charge for those items or not. The supply restriction would apply regardless of the channel of distribution (whether physical or online). Through this consultation, the introduction of restriction on the supply of these items where the supply is not in the course of a commercial activity (for example, the supply by individuals in a personal capacity) and on manufacture of these items is also being considered.

The proposed market restrictions are intended to significantly reduce plastic beach litter, with the items in question being amongst those most commonly found on beaches throughout the European Union. As ocean currents are not constrained by national boundaries, the measures being taken in Scotland will not only assist in reducing plastic pollution domestically but also mitigate Scotland's contribution to plastic pollution in other jurisdictions and the global plastics crisis generally.

The proposed market restrictions will also stimulate a shift towards less harmful alternatives such as paper and cardboard products, which are readily available in the domestic marketplace. Demonstrating this more responsible choice of resources is a vital element in building a more sustainable, circular Scotland with natural resources, health and beauty less incumbered by plastic pollution.

2.2 Scotland's Response

Scottish Ministers having long recognised the need to reduce consumption of single-use items, address sources of marine litter and move towards a more circular economy. Specific measures targeting single-use plastic items which have already been implemented, or are presently subject to consultation by the Scottish Government include:

  • Market restrictions on plastic microbeads and plastic-stemmed cotton buds which came into force 19 June 2018[16] and 12 October 2019[17] respectively;
  • A 5p-levy on single-use carrier bags, with work underway to increase the charge to 10p;
  • The establishment of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers including PET plastic bottles by 1 July 2022, with a 90% collection target by 2025;[18]
  • The establishment of the Expert Panel on Environmental Charges and Other Measures (EPECOM)[19] in May 2018 to explore measures to reduce the environmental impacts of on-the-go consumption in Scotland. The group published two reports: Recommendations on single-use disposable beverage cups[20] in July 2019 and Ending the Throwaway Culture: Five Principles for Tackling Single-use Items[21] in September 2020;
  • Ongoing work to reform the UK-wide producer responsibility scheme for packaging, with a commitment to consult on detailed proposals in 2021;
  • a successful 'Trial Period' campaign[22] to promote reusable menstrual products, delivered by Zero Waste Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government;
  • The requirement on businesses, public sector and not-for-profit organisations to present plastic (and other materials) for separate collection as set out under the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012;[23]
  • Becoming signatory to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment,[24] led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme, demonstrating our commitment to a circular economy for plastics;
  • Becoming a founding signatory to the UK Plastics Pact,[25] led by WRAP, a collaborative initiative that seeks to create a circular economy for plastics.

Implementing the requirements under Article 5 will align with the requirements set out in the EU Circular Economy Package (CEP) which came into force in July 2018. The Scottish Government has long recognised the benefits of a circular economy approach as demonstrated through Scotland's 2016 Circular Economy Strategy 'Making Things Last', and many of the Scottish Government's circular economy targets and policy commitments align with, or go beyond, the requirements of the CEP.

By reducing the amount of single-use plastics entering the Scottish market and by extension, the environment, the proposed market restrictions will support the targets, ambitions and actions set out in: Towards a Litter Free Scotland: A strategic Approach to Higher Quality Local Environments (TLFS),[26] A Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland (MLSS)[27] and Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland: the Government's Programme for Scotland 2020-2021.[28] By shifting productions of single-use items towards non-plastic materials, it will also result in net carbon savings, thereby supporting Scotland's 2045 net zero target.

2.3 The Development of the Consultation Paper

This Environmental Report has been published as part of a public consultation seeking views on the proposed introduction of market restrictions for the single-use plastic items and oxo-degradable plastic products covered under Article 5 of SUP Directive.

The durability, versatility and widespread use of plastic has facilitated the growth of a throwaway culture in Scotland. However, these same characteristics are what make this material so damaging in the marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. Plastic represents 20% of all terrestrial litter in Scotland,[29] with about 550 tonnes of land-based plastic litter (representing 110 million pieces) ending up on the seabed around Scotland every year. Typically, 250 tonnes of microplastics enter Scottish seas each year (about 25 trillion pieces), 90% of which enters the ocean via Scottish rivers.[30]

The intention set out in the consultation paper is that the imposing of restrictions on specified single-use plastic items and oxo-degradable plastic products will strengthen efforts to reduce marine litter, avoid the pollution of ecosystems and further support and stimulate the drive to a net-zero carbon Scottish society. They will play an important role in moving towards a more sustainable, circular economy in Scotland, with greater resource efficiency and respect for natural assets.

2.4 Consideration of Reasonable Alternatives

The 2005 Act requires that the potential significant environmental effects associated with reasonable alternatives to the targeted single-use plastic and oxo-degradable plastic products are assessed as part of the SEA process.

SEA Guidance explains that alternatives must be realistic and that when considering whether an alternative is reasonable, potential restrictions to its implementation, such as parameters set relevant legalisation and any relevant policy commitments, for example, are fully considered.

As noted above, Article 5 of the EU Single Use Plastics Directive requires the introduction of market restrictions for a specified list of problematic single use plastic items and all oxo-degradable products. If Scotland is to meet standards set out by the EU, these items must be included within the scope of proposed measures.

Whilst the focus of the proposed measures is on items covered by the EU Single Use Plastics Directive, we recognise that Scotland's beaches are blighted by some items not specified in the Directive. It is the Scottish Government's intention to explore further market restrictions on a wider range of items in due course, as set out in the consultation.

The proposed introduction of market restrictions form part of a wider package of measures being taken forward by Scottish Ministers to address marine litter and support a shift away from our throwaway culture, and sit alongside a broader range of initiatives already established or underway, such as market restrictions on plastic microbeads and plastic stemmed-cotton buds. Our approach is underpinned by the work of the Expert Panel on Environmental Charges and Other Measures (EPECOM) whose second report looks at the issue of single-use in a holistic way. The Scottish Government is committed to implementing the other requirements of the SUP Directive and has set out in the existing actions and next steps that will help create a more circular plastics economy in Scotland.

The Scottish Government also understands the problems caused by single-use items cannot be solved entirely by replacing them with alternative single-use items made with different materials. While the focus is on the items listed in the SUP Directive, the Scottish Government wishes to see innovative solutions that support more sustainable business models and reusable alternatives prioritised over substitution of materials.

The Scottish Government intends to track, report and review the impacts of measures and assess what more needs to be done to address our throwaway culture.

We consider that other measures are complementary to or would exceed the proposed market restrictions required by the EU Single Use Plastics Directive and, therefore, they are not considered reasonable alternatives. Further detail is set out in Appendix A.

The Scottish Government, as the Responsible Authority, proposes adopting an analytical approach to the assessment whereby predicted impacts of substitute products are investigated in relation to the specific single-use plastic item that each could theoretically replace.

For each of the restricted single-use plastic items, market research was conducted to identify the most common and likely product alternative (see Table 2‑1 below). Each alternative has been assessed in turn in order to identify, describe and evaluate (where possible) the likely significant environmental effects that could arise from its implementation.

Our impact analysis assumes that target items removed from the market are displaced by an equal number of alternative single-use items. It is possible however, that some items may be prevented through avoided consumption or reuse, which would result in greater environmental benefits. The extent of reuse and avoided consumption will depend in large part on supporting measures put in place.

As previously noted, one of the aims of aligning with Article 5 of the SUP Directive is to reduce the amount of plastic waste leakage both within and out with the Scottish ecosystem. To that end, the alternative products identified avoid the inclusion of plastic elements where possible, are generally constructed of materials which have a reduced impact on marine environments and biodiversity, and which will likely have shorter degradation periods. These considerations and others are noted within the analysis.

The effects of all alternative options have been considered with respect to the following topics: Material Impacts; Climate Factors, Landscape and Visual Impacts; Biodiversity. Based on the findings contained within the initial scoping report and after statutory consultation, these topics are deemed to be significant within the context of EU SUP Directive Article 5.

Table 2‑1 Average weight of single-use plastic items used in the analysis. Data sources: EU, [31] DEFRA, [32] and other [33] studies.
Measure No Item Functional unit Average weight (g)
1 Plastics cutlery 1 spoon 2.6
Wooden Cutlery 1 spoon 3
2 Plastics plates 1 plate 9.98
Paper Plates 1 plate 19
3 Plastic beverage stirrer 1 stirrer 0.6
Wooden Stirrer 1 stirrer 1.9
4 Plastic straws 1 straw 0.55
Wax-line paper straws 1 straw 1.07
5 Plastic balloon sticks 1 balloon stick 4.81
Cardboard balloon sticks 1 balloon stick 9.62
6 Food containers made of expanded polystyrene 1 container 5
Paperboard + wax box 1 container 10
7 Cups made of expanded polystyrene 1 cup 2.7
Plastic-line paper cups 1 cup 11
8 Oxo-degradable HDPE 19.1 litre carrier bag[34] 8.17
Conventional HDPE 19.1 litre carrier bag 8.17