Market restrictions on single-use plastic items: consultation analysis

An analysis report summarising and describing the responses to the public consultation on introducing market restrictions on single-use plastic items in Scotland.

4 Exemptions (Q3 and Q4)

4.1 The consultation paper set out the Scottish Government's intention to allow limited exemptions to the general market restrictions proposed. In particular, exemptions were proposed in relation to reusable plastic balloon stands and balloon sticks for professional use, plastic straws designed for medical use and to support independent living.

4.2 Questions 3 in the consultation asked for views about whether other exemptions should be considered, while Question 4 addressed the specific issue of ensuring continued access to plastic straws for disabled people.

Question 3: The SUP Directive includes limited exemptions for single-use plastic straws and balloon sticks. Are there other exemptions we should consider in relation to the market restrictions being proposed? [Yes / No]

Please give reasons.

Question 4: How can we make sure disabled people have access to plastic straws if they require them for medical reasons or to support independent living, whilst at the same time restricting wider access for environmental purposes in a way that fulfils the SUP Directive requirements?

Additional exemptions (Q3)

4.3 Table 4.1 shows that, overall, 20% of respondents thought that other exemptions (in addition to those proposed in the consultation paper) were required, and 80% thought that there should be no additional exemptions. However, organisations and individuals had different views on this question. Less than a fifth of individuals (18%) said 'yes' whilst organisations had more mixed views (44% said 'yes' and 56% said 'no'). A large majority of manufacturing organisations (11 out of 13) and food, drink, tourism and other business organisations (7 out of 9) said 'yes'.

Table 4.1: Q3 – Are there other exemptions (in addition to those for single-use plastic straws and balloon sticks) we should consider in relation to the market restrictions being proposed?
Yes No Total
Respondent type n % n % n %
Environmental charities, third sector and community sector organisations 5 20% 20 80% 25 100%
Packaging manufacturers and other types of manufacturing organisations 11 85% 2 15% 13 100%
Food, drink, tourism and other business organisations 7 78% 2 22% 9 100%
Public sector organisations 3 30% 7 70% 10 100%
Environmental consultancies and resource management organisations 1 20% 4 80% 5 100%
Other organisations 1 50% 1 50% 2 100%
Total organisations 28 44% 36 56% 64 100%
Total individuals 110 18% 512 82% 622 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 138 20% 548 80% 686 100%

4.4 Altogether, 409 respondents – 63 organisations and 346 individuals – made comments at Question 3.

4.5 A review of these comments suggests some misunderstanding about this question, particularly among individuals. Around three in ten of those who answered 'yes' and went on to explain their views made comments that suggest they thought the question was asking if there were other items that should be restricted. The suggestions put forward by these respondents included plastic food packaging, bubble wrap, plastic sanitary products, multi-pack rings, polystyrene food containers, etc., and 'all single-use plastics', and other items suggested in response to Question 5 (see Chapter 5). As such, the figures presented in Table 4.1 should be treated with caution.

4.6 The sections below present the views of those who wished to see further exemptions and those who did not. Two further sections consider the proposed exemptions for straws and balloon sticks, and other comments relevant to exemptions. Some respondents made comments but did not tick either 'yes' or 'no' at the closed part of the question. The views of these respondents reflected those put forward by other respondents and, thus, their comments are not covered separately.

Views in favour of additional exemptions

4.7 As Table 4.1 showed, a fifth of respondents said they would like to see further exemptions (i.e., they said 'yes' at the closed part of Question 3). However, organisations were more than twice as likely as individuals to express this view, with two groups of organisations – manufacturing organisations and food, drink, tourism and other business organisations – particularly likely to call for further exemptions.

4.8 In the main, respondents who said they wished to see further exemptions focused on groups of items or 'materials' that might be exempt, rather than on individual items, with most comments linked to two sectors: the medical, care and independent living sector, and the food, drink and catering sectors, as discussed below.

Medical, care, and independent living

4.9 Firstly, the group of items suggested most often for possible exemption were those used for medical or social care purposes and used to support independent living. This suggestion was made by both individuals and organisations. Respondents did not generally put forward specific items for exemption but indicated that they saw this as an appropriate criterion for justifying exemptions. Respondents noted the current reliance on single-use items in hospital and care settings, and in supporting independent living, and the potential difficulties in replacing single-use items with alternatives. The importance of consulting with relevant groups (such as those representing disabled people) on restrictions and possible exemptions was noted. However, some respondents qualified their support for exemptions for items of this type, saying that sustainable alternatives should still be sought, or that single-use plastic should only be used in an emergency, or if no alternative was available. Most respondents commented in general terms, but one food and drink organisation identified the plastic scoops provided with nutritional products for use in medical and care settings as an item that might require exemption.

4.10 Some respondents who ticked 'no' at the closed part of the question also indicated support for 'medical', 'care' or 'independent living' exemptions.

The food and drink and catering sectors

4.11 Secondly, respondents (mainly organisations from the food and drink and packaging manufacturing sectors) called for additional exemptions for items used in the catering sector. Comments related to suggestions of (i) specific items that might be exempt, (i) materials that might be exempt, or excluded from the restrictions, and (iii) environments or situations which might be exempt. Views on each of these are summarised briefly below.

4.12 Suggestions for exemptions for specific items included plastic plates for use with hot food purchased from vending machines, for which respondents said there was no safe and feasible alternative; and containers for take-away food. One food and drink producer sought clarity on the status of on-pack straws attached to drinks cartons provided in schools and nurseries.

4.13 Some organisational respondents – particularly packaging manufacturers and food, drink and tourism organisations – argued that the proposed restrictions, as currently drafted, would make it extremely challenging, if not impossible, for a range of food service businesses to operate. These organisations called for exemptions (or exclusions) for items (e.g., plates, cutlery, serving items, etc.) made of particular materials that were said to be less harmful to the environment than traditional single-use plastic. In this context a range of organisations called for exemptions (or exclusions) for items made of plant-based compostable materials. Some respondents provided detailed information to support their case regarding the use of such materials relating to, for example, (i) the importance of independent certification, good labelling and consumer education, and (ii) compostability, and successful co-collection and composting along with food waste. However, one public sector body offered a different view and argued that compostable (or other recyclable) items should not be exempt as they often ended up in landfill.

4.14 Some respondents (again, mainly packaging manufacturers and food, drink and tourism organisations) suggested that exemptions might be allowed in particular settings or situations, with the following all mentioned:

  • NHS and prison facilities, and other settings where the use of reusable crockery and cutlery may present risks
  • Closed environments where appropriate recycling and / or composting systems could be set up
  • Facilities or events (e.g., festivals, sports events and concerts) at which the use of standard re-usable crockery, cutlery or containers was neither feasible or desirable for health and safety reasons, and where recycling (or composting) could be put in place.

4.15 It was also suggested that exemptions might be allowed where no viable alternative is available for an item and where appropriate recycling / composting arrangements and regulation can be put in place. It was suggested that this might be done via EPR schemes.

Other suggested approaches to exemptions

4.16 In a few cases, respondents indicated other broad criteria that might be used to determine exemptions. As well as the medical, social care and independent living criteria noted above, some also suggested that exemptions might be justified on public health, health and safety, scientific grounds etc. There was also a suggestion for exemptions based on type, size or location of a business.

Views opposed to additional exemptions

4.17 As shown in Table 4.1, the majority of respondents (around four-fifths of individuals and just over half of organisations) did not wish to see further exemptions, with organisations (mainly environmental charities, third sector and community sector organisations, and environmental consultancies and resource management organisations) and individuals offering broadly similar views. Some in this group simply restated their view that no further exemptions were required, or they endorsed the proposed approach or the specific proposed exemptions, without expanding on their views in any substantive way.

4.18 However, it was also common for respondents to argue that a minimal approach to exemptions should be adopted to:

  • Provide clarity for all parties
  • Avoid loopholes which would potentially undermine the aims of the market restrictions
  • Increase the effectiveness of the legislation, encourage innovation and maximise the environmental benefits.

4.19 Respondents in this group also said that exemptions should be carefully considered; only allowed if an item is essential, or meets limited criteria, and there is no practical alternative available; clearly defined and specified, and closely regulated.

4.20 Some said there should be no exemptions, with some arguing that alternatives to single-use plastics were already available or that the development of alternatives should be prioritised to allow this to be achieved.

4.21 In addition to arguing for minimal exemptions, some respondents (mainly individuals) called for a more comprehensive approach to banning all single-use plastics.

4.22 Respondents who answered 'no' at the closed question often also commented on the two exemptions highlighted in the consultation paper relating to plastic straws, and balloon sticks and stands. These comments are covered in paragraphs 4.24 to 4.26 below.

Views on the proposed exemptions for straws and balloon sticks

4.23 It was common for respondents to refer specifically in their comments to the two main exemptions proposed by the Scottish Government: plastic straws and balloon sticks. In the main, respondents were supportive of the exemption for straws for medical or social care purposes and to support independent living, but they were opposed to the exemption for balloon sticks. Comments on these proposed exemptions were most often made by those opposed to further exemptions but were also made by some of those favouring further exemptions. In both cases, respondents offered broadly similar views. The main points made with regard to each are summarised below.


4.24 For the most part respondents expressed support for the proposed exemption on plastic straws for use by disabled people, or those belonging to a more broadly defined group including, for example, frail older people, people with long-term conditions, or vulnerable people. Respondents noted the benefits that plastic straws offered such people, with some seeing the exemption as an issue of equality, fairness, or individual rights. However, not all respondents agreed with the exemption – some argued that plastic straws were not essential and / or that there were re-usable or less environmentally damaging alternatives (metal, paper and bamboo straws were all noted, as were spouted cups) that could be used instead of plastic straws (note that it wasn't always clear if respondents opposed to the proposed exemption for plastic straws understood that this would be restricted to use by people with disabilities. Additionally, some who supported the exemption suggested that this should only be in place until effective alternatives were available. (See paragraphs 4.28 to 4.36 for further discussion of the proposed exemption for straws.)

Balloon sticks

4.25 There was a widespread view amongst respondents that balloon sticks should not be exempt from the proposed market restrictions, as they contributed to environmental damage and littering, and were not essential. Some argued that they should be made out of alternative sustainable materials such as bamboo, paper and metal. It was also suggested that work was required to establish whether commercial organisations did in fact re-use these items, and / or that any exemption would require appropriate policing to ensure items were not being discarded after use. Respondents opposed to an exemption for balloon sticks often also called for balloons (helium and standard) to be banned as they were said to be unnecessary and wasteful, and a significant contributor to littering and pollution.

4.26 Occasionally, respondents expressed support for the exemption for balloon sticks saying, for example, that these items were not major polluters. It was also pointed out that multi-use plastic balloon sticks would, by definition, not be covered by the proposed market restrictions as they were not 'single-use'.

Other comments

4.27 Respondents (both those who answered 'yes' and those who answered 'no') made a number of additional points related to exemptions, including the following:

  • Clear guidance on exemptions was needed, and consistency in approach and messaging across the UK would help bring about change in attitude and behaviours.
  • Further exemptions (or a delay in the implementation of some restrictions) and / or support in adapting to the new restrictions would assist businesses.
  • Exemptions should be decided by experts and / or considered on a case-by-case basis, and informed by full evidence and analysis, and consultation with relevant groups.
  • There would be no need for exemptions if the proposed market restrictions were not applied to certain items or materials (e.g., oxo-biodegradable materials), or not applied at all.

Ensuring access to plastic single-use straws for exempt groups (Q4)

4.28 The consultation paper noted that flexible plastic straws may be needed by people with certain types of medical conditions or disabilities. For some individuals, single-use plastic straws are needed to be able to drink safely and conveniently, and they can help support independent living and social inclusion. Furthermore, these items cannot always be easily replaced with a more sustainable alternative due to a lack of flexibility in the material, safety or cost. The SUP Directive requires EU Member States to restrict access to single-use plastic straws for environmental purposes but allows certain exemptions to be made for medical use or to support independent living.

4.29 The proposed market restrictions in Scotland would include an exemption for plastic straws provided for medical use and to support independent living. Question 4 asked respondents for their views on how access to plastic straws – required for these purposes – could be ensured whilst also restricting wider access to plastic straws among the general public.

4.30 Altogether, 655 respondents – 68 organisations and 587 individuals – commented at Question 4. Respondents expressed a range of views on this question, and these were often discussed in combination. Some respondents (mainly organisations) made general points, whilst others (both organisations and individuals) offered specific solutions. Each of these types of response are discussed below.

General points

4.31 Some organisations only made general comments in their responses to Question 4 without making specific suggestions, whereas others raised general points as a preface to their more specific suggestions. There were three recurring themes in the general comments.

4.32 First, respondents voiced widespread support for exempting plastic straws from the proposed market restrictions in cases where these were required for medical reasons or to support independent living. Respondents said they 'wholeheartedly agreed' that anyone who requires a straw for these purposes should have access to one. Some organisations (especially those in the third sector) commented that alternatives to plastic straws (including those made of paper or metal) were not always suitable for some people with certain disabilities or long-term conditions, and the point was made that measures to reduce single-use plastics should not adversely impact on marginalised groups. Respondents also often called for the exemption to be extended to paid and unpaid carers who may need to purchase plastic straws on behalf of the individual(s) they care for.

4.33 Second, there was a recurring view among organisational respondents that disabled people of all types should be consulted to determine how best to implement the proposed exemption. Indeed, some organisations did not address this question at all, saying that they deferred to the views of the people who would be most affected by the exemptions. Respondents noted and welcomed the Scottish Government's commitment to consult with these groups. There were also suggestions that the medical profession, care organisations and other support and advocacy organisations should be consulted further on this issue.

4.34 Third, whilst most respondents addressed the issue of how single-use plastic straws could be provided to those who need them for medical reasons or for independent living, there was also a common view that reusable, recyclable or compostable alternatives to plastic straws should be developed and made available to these groups instead. Some respondents suggested that alternatives including compostable straws, or straws made of bamboo or steel could be used for this purpose.

4.35 Occasionally, respondents made other general points, including that:

  • Whatever arrangements were made in relation to exemptions, there should be no loopholes to allow manufacturers to continue to produce non-exempt single-use plastic items.
  • Where a single-use item is needed and alternative materials to plastic are used, these items should be properly regulated and supported with associated policies and a waste infrastructure consistent with the principles of a circular economy.

4.36 There was also a suggestion that an initial pilot (and evaluation) of the exemption scheme should be undertaken prior to full implementation, and that periodic evaluation should also take place after the restrictions and exemptions have been implemented.

Specific solutions

4.37 In addition to their general points, respondents (both organisations and individuals) often made specific suggestions about how single-use plastic straws could be made available exclusively to those who needed them for medical reasons or to support independent living. There were two main views, and these overlapped to some extent in the comments made: (i) that plastic straws, if they must be used, could be provided through health and social care services, and (ii) that plastic straws should be made available only upon request. Each of these suggestions is discussed briefly here, followed by a summary of less frequently offered suggestions.

Provide plastic straws through health and social care services

4.38 There was a recurring view – both among organisations and individuals – that single-use plastic straws could be made available to those with disabilities or long-term conditions through health and social care services (e.g., in care homes, through social work or home care services, and from nurses, occupational therapists, GPs, etc.). It was also common for respondents to suggest that these items could be provided through pharmacies and / or on prescription.

Provide plastic straws upon request

4.39 At the same time, respondents also thought that people who have a genuine need for single-use plastic straws should also be able to access them outside of formal care settings. It was suggested that all restaurants, pubs, cafés and school cafeterias, etc. should be required to keep a small supply of plastic straws and make them available upon request.

Other suggestions

4.40 Occasionally, respondents (and particularly individual respondents) proposed a registration scheme for those who may require plastic straws. Such a scheme would enable an individual to provide proof that they are eligible to purchase these items and would help prevent the circulation of plastic straws in the wider population. It was suggested that the scheme could operate in a similar way to the Blue Badge parking scheme, or the existing requirement to show proof of age before purchasing certain products. More often, however, respondents (particularly third sector organisations) did not support this type of approach, arguing that disabled people and people with long-term conditions should not be required to 'prove' their disability to access the support they are entitled to. The point was also made that some medical conditions and disabilities are 'unseen'. Those who raised this point thought that plastic straws should not be widely promoted for general use or given as 'standard', but rather they should be available to be purchased as necessary.

4.41 Some respondents raised a related point, namely, that any legislation or regulations to restrict the availability of single-use plastic straws should not explicitly limit access to individuals who are formally recognised as disabled. This group argued instead for the legislation to use 'inclusive' language, and to avoid stigmatising disabled people – recognising that people with temporary illnesses, injuries or short-term conditions may also need – on a temporary basis – access to single-use plastic straws.

4.42 Very occasionally, in offering suggestions of how single-use plastic straws could be made available to those who need them, respondents suggested that plastic straws could be made available to individuals (or their carers) either through purchase or for free. However, in general, respondents did not explicitly comment on this issue. A small group of organisations commented that NHS, care home and social care services – as well as hospitality venues – would need to be able to purchase these straws for their patients / clients / eligible customers and therefore any market restrictions would need to take this into account. A further small group suggested that such items could be made available for purchase in pharmacies or other registered outlets and should be made available without intrusive questioning of people's disability status. However, others implied that these items should be provided for free by healthcare professionals (with some suggesting they might be provided on prescription) and hospitality services when needed or requested.

4.43 Finally, respondents occasionally highlighted a need for staff training / awareness raising (particularly among staff in the hospitality sector), advertising (for example, including information on plastic straws stating that they are available for people who need them) and a public campaign alongside the implementation of the market restrictions (for example, to highlight that certain individuals may continue to require access to these items).



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