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.

5 Consideration of future market restrictions (Q5)

5.1 The consultation paper made it clear that the proposed market restrictions were part of wider efforts to reduce the use of single-use plastic. It noted that the response to the restrictions would be monitored, and work would continue to assess what more needed to be done to address Scotland's throwaway culture. In particular, it noted the intention to explore the introduction of further market restrictions on a wider range of items in due course. Question 5 addressed this issue, asking respondents if they would support market restrictions on items included in the UK Plastics Pact[14] or any other items in addition to those already discussed in the consultation paper.

Question 5: This consultation highlights other items that the Scottish Government intends to consider market restrictions for in future (plastic wet wipes, plastic tampon applicators and those other products contained in the UK Plastics Pact's list of items to be eliminated by end of 2020 which are not currently subject to existing or proposed market restrictions). Would you support the consideration of market restrictions on these items or any other items we haven't listed? [Yes / No]

Please provide reasons and evidence where possible.

5.2 Table 5.1 shows that, overall, there was strong support for market restrictions on additional items, with 94% of respondents answering 'yes' at Question 5. Organisations were slightly less likely to answer 'yes'; however, more than three-quarters (79%) did so. The main opposition to this proposal was from packaging manufacturers and other types of manufacturing organisations. Among this group, 9 out of 12 said 'no' to restrictions on additional items.

Table 5.1: Q5 – Would you support the consideration of market restrictions on items contained in the UK Plastics Pact's list, or any other items?
Yes No Total
Respondent type n % n % n %
Environmental charities, third sector and community sector organisations 27 96% 1 4% 28 100%
Packaging manufacturers and other types of manufacturing organisations 3 25% 9 75% 12 100%
Food, drink, tourism, and other business organisations 4 67% 2 33% 6 100%
Public sector organisations 10 100% 0% 10 100%
Environmental consultancies and resource management organisations 3 75% 1 25% 4 100%
Other organisations 2 100% 0% 2 100%
Total organisations 49 79% 13 21% 62 100%
Total individuals 656 96% 30 4% 686 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 705 94% 43 6% 748 100%

5.3 This question was also addressed in the Friends of the Earth Scotland campaign, with 1,902 campaign respondents expressing support for market restrictions on items the Scottish Government is considering – such as plastic wet wipes and plastic tampon applicators – as well as other items.

5.4 A total of 567 respondents – 75 organisations and 492 individuals – provided comments at Question 5. The sections below cover general arguments for and against market restrictions on additional items, and views on applying market restrictions to specific items including wet wipes and tampon applicators. Note that it was not always clear if respondents were referring to specific items in their comments (e.g., wet wipes and tampon applicators as referred to in the question), or whether they were making more general points about the extension of market restrictions.

Support for additional market restrictions

5.5 There was widespread support among some groups of respondents – particularly environmental charities, third sector and community sector organisations; public sector organisations; and individuals – for consideration of further items that might be covered by market restrictions. These respondents emphasised the harm caused by single-use plastics – in terms of both long-term environmental damage and littering – and the importance of reducing reliance on plastic as part of a broader move to a 'greener', low carbon economy.

5.6 Respondents in this group variously called for the adoption of all measures advocated in the SUP Directive and the UK Plastics Pact, or for all single-use plastics (or all single-use items made of other materials) to be banned. Some said action was needed as a matter of urgency, while others favoured a more a phased approach characterised by aiming for 'easy wins' first before extending restrictions to more difficult or challenging items.

5.7 Respondents also said that:

  • It was not possible to rely on voluntary action by manufacturers and retailers, and that legislation would create a level playing field, provide a strong policy signal in this area, and promote investment and innovation in materials and products.
  • Alternatives were available, and that legislation would ensure more affordable products reached the market, although the need for initial subsidies or incentives, and consumer education were noted by some. Individuals in particular said that compostable materials could make a contribution in replacing single-use plastics.

5.8 However, some respondents in this group – organisations in particular – noted the importance of guarding against unintended consequences (environmental or social) in pursuing a policy of market restrictions. They said it was important to (i) fully assess the potential impact of alternative products and materials, and (ii) take account of the availability of sustainable alternatives, and the need for appropriate exemptions. With regard to the first point, a specific concern was raised about the use of paper, card or fibre containing PFAS (poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) as an alternative to plastic in food packaging.

5.9 Individuals often also reflected on the consumer experience, and made two main points:

  • People had become used to the convenience plastic offered, but they had managed prior to its mass introduction and they would accept and adapt to change again.
  • People didn't always realise the harm done by single-use plastic items, and market restrictions would remove the onus from individuals to make good sustainable choices.

5.10 Organisations and individuals often argued that the issue of single-use plastics, and the option of market restrictions on individual items, should not be looked at in isolation, but should be addressed as part of a wider move towards a more sustainable economy. Views on this are covered further at Chapter 8.

Opposition to or reservations about additional market restrictions

5.11 Those respondents opposed to, or expressing reservations about, further market restrictions made a number of points, saying that:

  • Single-use plastic served an important purpose and that effective alternatives were not always available – respondents often highlighted the reliance on single-use plastic items in infection control during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (hereafter referred to as Covid).
  • Alternative ways to deal with the issue of problematic single-use plastic – including EPR schemes; improved recycling, reuse and composting systems; taxing plastic packaging; and improved consumer information and labelling – were already planned or being pursued, and offered more effective ways of driving change and dealing with single-use plastic and, therefore, further market restrictions were not merited.
  • Non-plastic alternatives could also cause environmental harm, and careful assessment (full life cycle analysis) of products and material was needed in order to avoid unintended consequences.

5.12 Individuals opposed to additional market restrictions made a small number of additional points, suggesting, for example, that such action would be impractical (e.g., because of the continued availability of banned items online), or went beyond the government's 'authority'.

5.13 Occasionally, respondents said that more information on the proposed market restrictions was required in order to respond to the question.

Views on items to which market restrictions might be applied

5.14 It was common for respondents (both individuals and organisations) to give their views on one or both of the two items explicitly referred to in the question – that is, wet wipes and plastic tampon applicators.

Wet wipes

5.15 There was broad support among individuals, and some types of organisations (environmental charities, third sector and community sector organisations; public sector organisations; environmental consultancies and resource management organisations; and organisations in the 'other' category) for market restrictions to be applied to plastic wet wipes. Respondents frequently described the extent to which wet wipes contributed to beach littering and marine pollution; these items were also highlighted as causing significant problems in the water and sewerage system in the form of blockages that required frequent and costly intervention.

5.16 Organisations generally drew a distinction between plastic and non-plastic wet wipes. They called for plastic wet wipes to be banned and other wet wipes to be covered by EPR schemes with the aim of encouraging innovation in the development of sustainable products, and regulating standards and consumer information regarding disposal. The importance of clear definitions to ensure any new market restrictions covered appropriate products was noted. Some individuals also made the distinction between plastic and other wet wipes, while others called for all wet wipes to be banned.

5.17 Respondents generally argued that wet wipes were non-essential items that could be replaced by more sustainable alternatives (washable cloths, or bio-degradable wipes). Individuals in particular also said that these items were simply used for convenience or out of habit; they also suggested there was limited awareness of the plastic content of wet wipes, the need for correct disposal and the environmental damage caused by these items. While some thought that better information and education may help with this, others thought this type of action was unlikely to change consumer behaviour in any significant way and that a ban was therefore needed.

5.18 Packaging and other manufacturing organisations were the most likely types of respondents to argue that market restrictions should not be applied to wet wipes. This group said that wet wipes were efficient and effective consumer products that played an important role in ensuring hygiene; that no viable and affordable alternative was currently available; and that a ban on plastic wipes would impact on the less well off. Respondents in this group stressed the importance of effective communication as a way of tackling the problems associated with the disposal of wet wipes. They also argued for an EPR-based approach for domestic (but not professional) wet wipes, designed to encourage innovation and ensure adherence to an industry code of practice relating to 'flushability' and labelling. This was said to be in line with the approach being developed under the EU SUP Directive, and would therefore offer the benefit of harmonisation with other European countries. There was also support from some public sector organisations for an EPR-based approach (with the suggestion that wipes meeting the 'Fine to Flush' standard be exempt[15]).

5.19 Only occasionally did individuals say explicitly that wet wipes should not be considered for future market restrictions, although some additional individuals expressed reservations about this possibility. In both cases, these individuals made similar points, saying that wet wipes were essential (particularly for parents of babies and young children or for those with disabilities) or important for particular purposes (e.g., infection control) and that a ban would have a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable or disadvantaged because of the greater cost of alternatives.

5.20 Additionally, some respondents (individuals and organisations) who supported market restrictions also highlighted the importance of wet wipes to those with disabilities and said that the needs of this group should be taken into account in any further policy development. In particular, respondents suggested that market restrictions should only be introduced once acceptable sustainable and affordable alternatives were available; that exemptions should be applied to wet wipes used by particular groups or in particular settings; and / or that further consultation should be carried out with affected groups about this proposal.

Plastic tampon applicators

5.21 As with wet wipes there was widespread support among individuals, and some types of organisations (environmental charities, third sector and community sector organisations; public sector organisations; and environmental consultancies and resource management organisations; and organisations in the 'other' category) for market restrictions to be applied to plastic tampon applicators. Some also suggested this should be extended to other single-use sanitary products containing plastic, and that single-use sanitary products should not be sold in plastic packaging. Respondents noted that these items were major contributors to beach littering and marine pollution, and that effective alternatives were available, either in the form of non-applicator or cardboard-applicator tampons, or as reusable sanitary products. They also suggested that a ban would drive the development of improved and more sustainable products.

5.22 However, respondents who favoured market restrictions often also said that it would be important for:

  • Affordable, accessible and effective alternatives to be available, with some suggesting different ways that products might be subsidised for consumers and incentivised for producers – in a few cases individuals argued that reusable products already offered long-term savings, although the initial outlay was acknowledged to be an issue
  • Any policy of this type to take account of the needs and views of disabled women.

5.23 They also noted the importance of raising awareness of (i) the environmental impact of all single-use sanitary products and the importance of appropriate disposal, and (ii) the availability of reusable products, particularly among younger girls / women, with a suggestion that these might be promoted via the free period product initiative.

5.24 As with wet wipes, the group of respondents offering most consistent opposition to market restrictions on plastic tampon applicators were packaging and other manufacturing organisations. Respondents in this group said that these products were important in offering consumer choice and comfort – some highlighted the particular benefits for those with disabilities. They argued that the problem of inappropriate disposal could be dealt with via good information and labelling, as already advocated in an industry code of practice. They also thought a Scotland-only ban would be difficult to manage.

5.25 There was also some opposition to (or reservations about) market restrictions on these items among individuals and other types of organisations. For this group of respondents concerns focused on:

  • Individual choice, ease of use and comfort, especially for those with disabilities and for young girls
  • Accessibility and affordability of alternative products, and the impact that any market restrictions might have on 'period poverty'.

5.26 Some said that:

  • A ban should only be implemented once effective and affordable alternatives were available – a phased introduction was also suggested.
  • More consultation with women, and disabled women, was needed on this issue.

Other items that might be covered by market restrictions

5.27 Respondents put forward a wide range of suggestions for individual items that might be banned, regulated or restricted in some way in the future, as detailed at paragraphs 5.29 and 5.30 below. In calling for further market restrictions, respondents frequently drew attention to action being taken in other countries which went beyond the requirements of the EU SUP Directive. These respondents particularly highlighted proposals to ban:

  • Plastic items including condiment sachets, and plastic hotel toiletries in Ireland
  • Plastic confetti, plastic toys supplied with food menus, and plastic tea bags in France[16]
  • Plastic grocery bags, six-pack rings, and takeaway food containers in Canada.

5.28 Those respondents submitting responses as part of the Friends of the Earth Scotland campaign called for bans on condiment sachets, hotel toiletries, confetti, tea bags and free toys supplied with food menus, reflecting the proposals in France and Ireland.

5.29 Other individual items suggested by respondents included the following:

  • Hospitality and catering: hotel toiletries, single-use items in sit-in environments, free plastic toys, condiments sachets, bottles, plastic (other than EPS) single-use cups and lids, takeaway containers
  • Entertainment, celebratory and novelty items: sky lanterns, fireworks, balloons (and intentional release of balloons), glitter, sequins, plastic confetti, plastic decorations, plastic content in wrapping paper and cards, single-use ribbon, marketing 'freebies' (with magazines, at conferences, etc.)
  • Food retail: coffee pods, tea bags containing plastic, plastic milk cartons, baby food pouches, confectionery wrappers and crisp bags, multi-pack wrapping and can rings, fruit and vegetable wrapping and nets, plastic windows in food packaging
  • Non-food retail: clothes hangers, plastic price tags and labels, 'cheap clothes' (or fast fashion) that might be perceived as single-use, detergent and fabric conditioner bottles and 'pods', plastic toys, plastic stationery items including pens, window envelopes, rubber bands, Sellotape, etc.
  • Personal care items: disposable razors, toothpaste tubes, plastic toothbrushes and other dental care items, daily contact lenses, make-up containers, cosmetic sample sachets
  • Healthcare items: plastic face masks and other PPE (particularly – but not exclusively – with regard to personal rather than professional use), blister packs for medicines, plasters and medical dressings, other single-use plastic items in the healthcare sector
  • Cigarette filters containing plastic and disposable lighters, with respondents noting health as well as environmental reasons for banning these items
  • Plastic fishing gear, both commercial and personal
  • DIY, gardening and pet care: plastic dustsheets, plastic brooms and brush bristles, cable ties, plastic tree guards and seed trays, plastic garden furniture, refuse sacks, dog poo bags.

5.30 Some respondents made more general suggestions about the types of items that should be restricted – for example:

  • Plastic and polystyrene packaging, cling film, plastic bags
  • Hard to recycle items, including items made of mixed materials
  • All plastic items intended for single-use, or short-life use
  • Plastic products that break down into microplastics.

5.31 And, while most respondents focused on the consumer market and / service sectors in making their suggestions, there were also calls for consideration to be given to the use of plastics in other areas such as the agriculture and construction sectors, fisheries and marine transportation, and the education / medical / veterinary / scientific sectors.

5.32 In the main, respondents did not provide detailed arguments about the suggestions put forward other than to note their widespread and increasing use, their non-essential nature, the availability of alternatives (or the scope for developing alternatives), and their presence in littering and plastic pollution.

5.33 One further item discussed in some detail by respondents (mainly individuals and environmental charities) in response to this question was disposable nappies. Broadly speaking, respondents noted the environmental damage caused by single-use nappies, but did not necessarily call for them to be covered by market restrictions. Instead, they generally favoured a strategy to encourage use of re-usable nappies through promotion, subsidies and incentives, and regulation of environmental standards and related labelling.



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