Single-use disposable cups: EPECOM recommendations

The first report from Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures (EPECOM) sets out its recommendations to tackle the dependence on, and environmental impact of, single-use disposable beverage cups in Scotland.


This is the first Report of the Expert Panel for Environmental Charging and Other Measures and sets outs its recommendations to tackle the dependence on, and environmental impact of single-use disposable beverage cups[1] in Scotland. It is envisaged that the measures set out below apply primarily to single-use disposable beverage cups made from cardboard lined with plastic, noting that these should in future and/or subject to consultation also be extended to include other types of single-use disposable beverage cups.

The Panel

In the Programme for Government 2017/18, the First Minister announced her intention to take the circular economy to the next level through a number of measures, including appointing an Expert Panel on Environmental Charges and Other Measures. The Panel’s remit is to examine how to reduce demand for single-use items. Importantly they are also looking to advise on the use of charges, similar to the successful single-use carrier bag charge, with the goal of encouraging long-term and sustainable changes in consumer behaviour. 

In May 2018, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform announced the membership of the Panel and indicated that it would consider the issues around plastic pollution, including a focus on disposable cups and plastic straws. The Expert Panel first met in June 2018. Its purpose is to identify bold actions and provide advice to Scottish Ministers on charges or other measures which may be adopted in Scotland, with the goal of encouraging the long-term and sustainable changes in consumer and producer behaviour required to tackle our throwaway culture and move towards a circular economy. 

The Panel has an initial working life of two years, over which time it will deliver a rolling programme of advice on priority items, starting with single-use disposable beverage cups.

Details of the Panel membership can be found in Annex A

The Panel’s Approach

The Expert Panel has agreed a set of guiding principles to underpin its way of working; and to provide a reference point to guide and inform its consideration of key issues and assessment of potential options and recommendations. These principles are:

  • Outcomes focused and evidence informed: Focus on the difference that measures can make to address Scotland’s throwaway culture. Base recommendations on best available evidence on key issues and impact of different options, and consider unintended consequences of measures.
  • Targeting: Prioritise preventing single-use materials being used, before looking at reuse, recycle and recovery options. Take into account the different lifecycle impacts of specific materials. Consider how measures add up and impact groups differently.
  • Proportionality: Only propose additional measures when necessary. Solutions should be proportionate to the problem and the potential costs of implementation. Consider all options for achieving objectives, prescriptive actions as well as educational measures.
  • Transparency, integrity and accountability: Explain clearly how and why recommendations are made. Be open to public scrutiny and publish summaries of discussions. Clear line of accountability to Scottish Ministers, and regularly review and report on progress.
  • Consistency, coherence and context: Consider whether existing policy measures work together in a joined-up way. Identify opportunities to strengthen co-ordination and coherence to maximise impact. Take account of the wider context.

To ensure a robust evaluation of best available evidence, the Panel commissioned an independent review of existing literature, spanning both academic and grey literature, which was carried out by researchers at the University of Cardiff and focused primarily on price-based interventions and supporting other measures to reduce the use of disposable coffee cups (DCCs), as well as the wider implications of introducing a charge. In particular, it considered the evidence around four key issues. The primary aim of the rapid review concerned: 1) the effectiveness of DCC charges (including the conditions under which charges are more or less likely to be effective in changing consumer behaviour). Three additional secondary aims of the review were to consider; 2) economic aspects of DCC charges (including the optimal level of charge required to establish meaningful behavioural change); 3) the effectiveness of charges on other disposable products (such as carrier bags and other single-use plastic items); and 4) other measures to reduce the consumption of DCCs (including discounts, cup rental schemes, bans on single-use products, and initiatives to increase recycling). 

The Panel also drew on an extensive knowledge account collated by analysts from Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland; and a range of other supporting papers. Details of the main evidence considered by the Panel is contained in Annex B. The Panel hosted two stakeholder engagement events to test and refine its emerging propositions and identify outstanding issues. The Panel would like to thank all stakeholders who attended the events and recognises that participation in the stakeholder events should not be seen as an endorsement of, or agreement with, the Panel’s recommendations. 

More information on the Panel and its work is available on its webpages: The Panel will also, where practical, publish material that it has collated or commissioned and used as evidence that informs its recommendations. These can be found on the Scottish Government’s website. 

Wider context

The Panel’s considerations have coincided with significant policy developments at EU and UK level, including involvement in the UK wide Plastics pact led by WRAP. The EU Single-use Plastics Directive outlines a number of areas of action for EU member states, including banning certain items, encouraging reduced consumption of others and new targets to meet. The Scottish  Government has indicated that it intends to continue to match the pace envisioned by the EU Directive post EU-Exit and the Expert Panel has been asked to advise on how we can go above and beyond the requirements of the EU Directive to tackle Scotland’s throwaway culture. The Panel also noted the potential impact of UK wide consultation on proposed reform of packaging producer responsibility arrangements which, if pursued, will require businesses to take greater responsibility for the environmental impact of their products and for the costs of managing packaging at end of life. These and other external developments have been considered and noted throughout the development of the Panel’s recommendations. 



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