The Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021: equality impact assessment

Full Equality Impact Assessment on an amendment to the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014

Full Equality Impact Assessment

Description of policy

Title of policy/ strategy/ legislation 

Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014 


Roseanna Cunningham, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

Lead official

Donald McGillivray, Deputy Director, Environmental Quality and Circular Economy

SG officials involved in EQIA

Mark Cook - Circular Economy Team 

Catriona Graham - Circular Economy Team

Gita Anand - Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services (RESAS)

Rhys Howell - Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services (RESAS)


Environment and Forestry Directorate

New policy and/or legislation

Amendments to the Single Use Carrier Bag (Scotland) Regulations 2014 to increase the minimum charge on single-use carrier bags from 5p to 10p

Full EQIA: Introduction

1.1 Overview

The Scottish Government proposes to raise the minimum charge for a single-use carrier bag (SUCB) from 5p to 10p. The proposal is considered a minor amendment to an existing piece of legislation (which was passed prior to the requirement to undertake an EQIA). As such, it has been decided that a partial EQIA is not necessary and to proceed to a full EQIA.

The EQIA focuses in on some key potential impacts of the single SUCB charge increase on people with protected characteristics and considers what mitigations could be put in place to reduce the risk of disadvantage that may unintentionally be caused. 

Equality legislation covers the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, gender including pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, and sexual orientation. It is important to note that the protected characteristics covered through an EQIA are often not independent of each other and some people may have to deal with complex and interconnected issues related to experiencing disadvantage at any one time.

1.2 Policy aim, context and objectives

Policy aim 

The aim of the policy is to amend the SUCB (Scotland) Regulations 2014 to increase the minimum SUCB charge from 5p to 10p. The 2014 regulations require all retailers (food and non-food) to charge a minimum of 5p for each new SUCB.[1] The charge is levied at the point of sale and applies to SUCBs made from paper, plastic, and less durable plant-based materials. The aim was to encourage behaviour change in terms of bag re-use and to reduce the visible and environmental impact of litter. 

In the first year of its introduction, the 5p charge resulted in an 80% reduction in SUCB consumption across seven major retailers in Scotland, from an estimated 800 million to 150 million, meaning that 650 million fewer SUCBs were used.[2] Similar impacts were achieved in England and Wales following the introduction of their respective SUCB regulations. In England, which regulated in 2015 to require a minimum charge of 5p on plastic SUCBs only, an 85% reduction in plastic SUCB consumption was achieved across the seven major retailers between 2014 and 2018-19, from 7.6 billion to 0.55 billion.[3] In Wales, a 2019 review showed that, between 2011 and 2018, a 5p charge led to a reduction in plastic SUCB consumption of 73%.[4]

The majority of respondents (80%)[5] to the Circular Economy (CE) Bill consultation undertaken in 2019 agreed with the proposal to increase the minimum SUCB charge from 5p to 10p, suggesting strong public support for the charge increase. Respondents to the CE Bill consultation suggested that, in terms of equalities impact, people with disabilities would likely be most affected by environmental charging.

Policy context and rationale

The revised SUCB (Scotland) Regulations 2014 forms part of the Scottish Government’s wider ambition to develop a more circular economy, which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of the products and materials that we consume in Scotland and maximise resources to benefit the economy and the environment. The increase in the SUCB charge would ensure that the effect of the 5p charge does not weaken over time as a result of inflation, and is expected to further reduce SUCB use. It would also ensure alignment with the recently-announced plan to increase the SUCB charge to 10p in England.[6] 

Amending the SUCB (Scotland) Regulations 2014 to increase the SUCB charge from 5p to 10p would contribute to the delivery of the Scottish Government’s National Outcomes 12 and 14:

  • We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect it and enhance it for future generations;
  • We reduce the local and global environmental impact of our consumption and production

Achieving these strategic objectives will help Scotland progress towards its 2025 waste targets:

  • Reduce total waste arising in Scotland by 15% against 2011 levels
  • Reduce food waste by 33% against 2013 levels
  • Recycle 70% of remaining waste
  • Send no more than 5% of remaining waste to landfill

In 2015, the Scottish Government signed up to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[7] The ambition behind the SDGs is to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Amending the SUCB (Scotland) Regulations to increase the minimum SUCB charge from 5p to 10p would have a positive impact on a number of these goals, most explicitly Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. It would also contribute, indirectly, to other SDGs through the commitment of most Scottish retailers to donate proceeds from the sale of SUCBs to social and environmental charities.

In terms of alignment with EU regulations, in the case of lightweight plastic carrier bags, an EU Directive requires countries to reduce their consumption through charges or national maximum consumption targets.[8] In addition to this Directive, in May 2018, the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package was approved.[9] The legislation aims to move economies towards adopting more circular approaches and to curb plastic waste and littering. In the context of this Circular Economy Package, the EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was published in January 2018. Actions include curbing plastic waste and littering, with actions to reduce single-use plastics, tackle sea-based sources of marine litter, and monitor and curb marine litter more effectively.[10] Increasing the SUCB charge from 5p to 10p will help to maintain reductions to date in, and may further reduce, plastic waste and littering.

Policy objectives

The overall policy objectives associated with amending the SUCB (Scotland) Regulations 2014 to increase the minimum SUCB charge from 5p to 10p are to:

  • Ensure the reduction in SUCB use to date is maintained and further reductions are achieved
  • Support additional reductions in littering behavior
  • Increase materials and carbon savings
  • Reduce waste sent to landfill and associated costs of waste treatment
  • Deliver economic and societal benefits for Scotland 

1.3 Potential impacts of the change

Who will it affect? 

The increase in the minimum SUCB charge from 5p to 10p would be applied across Scotland and would not target specific groups or sections of society. However, the impacts may be experienced differently by people with certain protected characteristics (or combinations thereof).

Since the introduction of the 5p charge, nearly all large grocery retailers, used by a majority of people, have already increased SUCB charges to 10p or more - or have switched entirely from SUCBs to bags for life (BfL), costing 10p or more - on a voluntary basis.[11] As a result, people have already had time to adjust to such a charge and, in any case, shoppers will have the option to bring or buy a reusable carrier bag and therefore avoid repeated SUCB costs. That being the case, it is unlikely that a large majority of the population will face substantial additional costs from this charge.

Expected impacts

A positive impact of the proposed amendment would be its impact on littering in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Evidence shows that SUCBs are a prevalent form of littering in Scotland and have a major damaging impact on marine wildlife.[12] Littering has been one of the nation’s most frequently-reported neighbourhood problems since 2006, and disproportionately impacts on deprived neighbourhoods.[13] Previous research suggests littering also imposes a real cost on society.[14] 

There is evidence that the introduction of the minimum 5p charge led to a significant decrease in littering. A study conducted by the Marine Conservation Society, following on from the implementation of the SUCB (Scotland) Regulations 2014, showed that the number of plastic bags on UK beaches dropped by 40% between 2015 and 2016,[15] and a further 42% between 2018-19 (from 6.4 to 3.7 bags per 100m of beach).[16]  

Measures that reduce littering, such as an increase in the SUCB charge, could reasonably be predicted to have a positive impact on people’s sense of neighbourhood generally.[17]

Many retailers have charitable funds raised through the SUCB charge which support social or environmental projects at local level. It should be noted that this is a voluntary act and not a mandatory requirement of the SUCB charge regulations. This was identified as a potential positive impact of the increased SUBC charge in the climate justice workshop, run by the Scottish Government Research Team in February 2018; and discussed in the Public Interest Workshop held on 15 March 2018 in Edinburgh, and in the interview with the representative organisation for remote and island communities on 12 April 2018.

1.4 What might prevent the desired outcomes being achieved?

Achieving the desired outcomes will be dependent on businesses and consumers adopting new behaviours to effectively further reduce the use of SUCBs, primarily an increase in bag re-use. As noted in the Business Regulatory Impact Assessment, the substitution of SUCBs with reusable bags for life (BfLs) suggests that some of the initial benefits of the reduction in the number of SUCBs is offset by the increased use of substitute bags, including Bags for Life (BfLs) and smaller bin bags. Despite this, the Scottish Post-Implementation Review found that, annual savings of 4,349 tonnes of plastic and 2,692 tonnes of carbon were achieved in the year following the introduction of the charge.



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