Single-Use Disposable Cups Charge Advisory Group minutes: August 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 24 August 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • David Llewellyn (AVA)
  • Jason Harvie (Alliance)
  • Debbie Hosie (Assist FM)
  • Kirsten McEwan (2050 Climate Group)
  • Emily Robinson (Compass Scotland)
  • James Davidson (Disability Equality Scotland)
  • Jack Evans (Joseph Rowntree Organisation)
  • Catherine Gee (Keep Scotland Beautiful)
  • Irene Taft (NHS National Services Scotland)
  • Neil Whittall (Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group)
  • Professor Liam Delaney (EPECOM economist)
  • Nicola Howie (Scotland Excel)
  • Paul Togneri (Scottish Beer and Pub Association)
  • Phoebe Cochrane (Scottish Environment Link)
  • Ewan MacDonald-Russell (Scottish Retail Consortium)
  • Margaret Smith (Scottish Wholesale Association)
  • Graeme Paton (Trading Standards)
  • Leon Thompson (UK Hospitality)
  • Martin Kersh (Foodservice Packaging Association)
  • Colin Wilkinson (Scottish Licensed Trade Association)
  • Brian Lawrie (Environmental Health)
  • Andrew Morrison (Food Standards Scotland)
  • Gayle Barclay (Edinburgh Airport)
  • Magdalena Golebiewska (EasyJet)
  • Stacey Dingwall (Federation of Small Business)
  • Adrian Pratt (Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group)
  • Lucy Frankel (Vegware)
  • Alison McKinnie (Zero Waste Scotland)
  • Sarah Archer (Zero Waste Scotland)
  • Jacqui Mitchell (Zero Waste Scotland)
  • Shaun Taylor (Scottish Government)
  • Jonathan Waite (Scottish Government)
  • Janet McVea (Scottish Government)


  • Luke McGarty (Scottish Grocer’s Federation)
  • Rachel Cook (Federation of Small Businesses)

Items and actions

Welcome and apologies

The chair introduced the meeting and welcomed members to the third meeting of the advisory group.

The chair advised the group that the purpose of this meeting is to progress discussions about the potential approach to the charge and discuss in more detail the perceived enablers and challenges to implementing a charge.

Shaun Taylor (SG) confirmed that the impact of the UK Internal Market Act 2020 on any charge will be considered and communicated clearly to stakeholders.

Zero Waste Scotland provided an update on a single-use cups research project and thanked members who have provided input to the work.

The aim of the work is to:

  • analyse the Scottish market for single-use cups
  • assess the impact of a mandatory charge for both plastic and non-plastic cups including lid
  • consider the development of additional measures set out within the EPECOM recommendations

The research will also consider the potential unintended consequences - covering environmental, social, equality and geographical – and international best practice of implementing charges.

Zero Waste Scotland invited members to send any feedback or concerns through the Team Coordinators email address. Action point: Vegware asked for further information on the definition of plastic used in the work. 

Discussion (paper 3.1)

Breakout 1 – Use of charge/ model

Two possible models were presented to the group for consideration in meeting two, a cost neutral and additional charge model. Further time was provided in this meeting to discuss the topic further. The Chair noted at the outset of this item that it was important to note these discussions will help with decision making and no decision on the final approach has been taken yet.

Group 1

The model used (e.g. cost neutral, additional cost) will have to be dependent on business circumstances.

  • there was agreement with the principle of a cost neutral model but the practical feasibility of this approach (e.g., impact of price increases) was questioned
  • it was felt that an additional charge model may be more effective at driving behaviour change
  • the purpose of the charge is not to make money so clarity will be required on how the charge is being used by businesses
  • reasonable costs must be applied in a fair and uniform manner
  • reasonable costs will have to reflect recent investments in more expensive/ sustainable single-use cups

Group 2

  • there will need to be clarity on the final cost advertised to customers, e.g. a total price including VAT should be shown
  • we should try to learn from the DRS process as much as possible and this may include the approach to deciding what a reasonable cost to businesses is if this route is undertaken
  • there are equalities considerations that need to be considered when deciding on the final form of the charge. Considerations should include whether there are groups of people that will be disproportionately affected by the charge, what accessible alternatives to a single-use cup are available and how to communicate the charge effectively to, for example, disabled people
  • businesses may be reluctant to adopt a cost neutral approach especially in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis

Group 3

  • clarification about whether ‘reasonable costs’ would cover the cost of the cup, if not then businesses would need to add the charge to the existing pricing and pass to customer
  • was noted that the carrier bag charge was different and argued it had created a revenue stream for businesses (for reusable bags) and that the scenarios they are used in are different (e.g. plan to go to the shops, on-the-go coffee is more spontaneous). Whereas sugar tax was seen to drive supermarkets away from drinks with more sugar in and therefore potentially a better comparison
  • how would ‘reasonable costs’ be defined? Would it cover, for example, costs to cover installation of washing facilities? Suggested a separate fund be more appropriate for larger aspects
  • communication around the charge should be clear to customers – clear that this is coming from government, and not an additional charge businesses are putting on them
  • acknowledged that wide range of businesses (size, operating models) who would apply the charge and therefore one approach might not fit all. Businesses therefore better place to use the approach which suits them best

Breakout 2 – Use of charge revenues

Potential uses for the revenues raised by the charge were discussed in breakout groups. As per the breakout 1 item above, group members were made aware that these discussions will help with decision making and no decision on the final approach has been taken yet.

Group 1

  • there was agreement that a mixed approach would be most appropriate, e.g. central guidance but flexibility for businesses to direct net profits to appropriate environmental/ circular economy initiatives
  • if revenues were collected centrally there would need to be clarity on how the revenues were be used, and consideration of the impact of public acceptability of a charge which was being collected centrally vs. businesses reinvesting in net profits in local initiatives
  • the issue of fairness was raised in terms of those collecting the charge wishing to see any net profits reinvested in their local area
  • however, it was also noted that too much positive focus on initiatives being delivered via any revenues generated may act as a behavioural disincentive to reduce the use of single-use cups

Group 2

  • various options for using the revenues raised by the charge were discussed including to encourage local enterprise, infrastructure to encourage re-usable alternatives an environmental charities
  • the way the reformed packaging EPR scheme uses revenues raised should be looked at to see if lessons can be learned for a cups charge
  • if two options are being considered (a central fund vs businesses managing revenues raised) then full costings of the two approaches should be understood before a decision is made
  • Scottish Government could provide a list of acceptable ways to donate the revenues
  • whatever approach is undertaken, clarity must be provided to businesses and consumers and may need to be specifically included in the legislation
  • detailed guidance should be produced by Scottish Government and the use of revenues should have a tighter definition than the carrier bag charge

Group 3

  • clear wish for clarity on where the charge ends up, if it goes back to government then should be called a tax. Discussion on definitions of tax vs levy, and need to be careful with language
  • there was a view that recycling of cups (EPR mandatory takeback) should be considered a suitable green initiative for charge to go towards
  • highlighted that Irish Environmental Fund includes definitions of what is funded and annual accounts
  • suggestions that money raised should be ring-fenced for: communications, costs to cafes, business refurbishment, extra staffing costs, local communities, or decided by working group/board representing different stakeholders
  • noted the Irish CE Bill was v clear that the cup charge would be used for environmental causes. Clearly sets this as the expectation
  • question about how net proceeds would be managed in a school environment. And how coordination could happen across local authorities

Breakout 3 – Implementation

Group members were split into three groups to discuss enablers and potential challenges/barriers to the implementation of a charge in more detail, including barriers raised by the Group in previous meetings. Discussions were then summarised to the whole Group for any additional points to be considered.

Group 1

  • a clear government mandate will be a key driver of effective implementation
  • parallel measures (e.g. DRS cup schemes) need to be proactively supported to ensure the success of the policy aim to reduce the use of single-use cups
  • the success of re-use schemes will be dependent on factors such as convenience, pricing, return points and cleaning considerations
  • wider legislation (e.g. SUP ban, DRS, EPR) helps illustrate the broader direction of travel and is therefore likely to support implementation, however, clarity of messaging on any interdependencies will also important
  • successful implementation will require clear communication on the purpose of the policy, timelines and milestones
  • Scottish Government-led communications, and the development of comms/marketing material which can be used by businesses, will ensure consistent messaging, highlight that this is a Scotland-wide initiative, and help reduce business costs in terms of having a create bespoke comms material to highlight the introduction of the charge
  • it was noted that re-use should become the default in closed loop/ event setting, however, this is likely to have cost implications

Group 2

  • he impact on vending machines should be considered. A large proportion of vending machines are ‘free vend’ and don’t have the functionality to accept payment and customers using their own cups might not be possible; Action Point: Automatic Vending Association agreed to send vending machine related data to SG e.g. number of vending machines affected
  • communications on this subject should include the message that if re-usable is not an option the single-use cup should be recyclable
  • there may be some challenges around facilitating large meetings e.g. conferences. Washing re-usables might be very labour intensive and some venues may not have the facilities to do so which could lead to environmental health concerns
  • the impact on disabled people was discussed, and it was noted that steps should be taken to ensure the charge does not have a disproportionate effect on disabled people. Possible mitigations such as the provision of re-usable cups by SG and exemptions were discussed; Action point: Disability Equality Scotland agreed to send further information to SG to develop these discussions further
  • small venues might not have the infrastructure in place to accept re-usable cups
  • the suitability for a charge on single-use cups at large events was raised. These events might have restrictions on the use of hard cups. A possible mitigation offered was to encourage recycling in these situations instead. Examples of re-usable schemes at events was provided, such as a DRS at Wimbledon
  • the need to fully understand the costs of moving to more re-usable cup usage for businesses was raised
  • it was noted that communication campaigns will be very important to explain to consumers the rationale behind a cups charge, especially during the cost crisis

Group 3

  • noted the variations re businesses, and questioned if a flat rate was sensible. Instead of variable rate, possible mitigation could be around exemptions and taking a phased approach
  • oncern re hygiene and cleanliness of accepting customers’ re-usable cups – clear guidance could help with this. FSA standards are applied for packaging and food standards. Would need guidance for both i) sellers of reusable cups and ii) acceptors (e.g. café owners) of customers reusable cups
  • to collect data, timely registration of any businesses would be required, and reporting should be part of any existing mechanism to build habit (e.g. as part of returns to government)
  • dedicated support to smaller businesses (big campaigns, helplines) is very important
  • need big push to ensure uptake from day 1
  • sanctions required to ensure fairness (e.g. what happens if business doesn’t register or apply charge?)
  • level playing field needed
  • vending machines often free at point consumer receiving. Nature of environment they are often in (e.g. heavily dirty conditions) can mean use of re-usables undesirable. Technically possible for new machines to accept re-usables (so long as not certain colours, and phase out of old machines required). Potential for business to pay charge at point of purchasing cup
  • behaviour change required – public perception of cups being paper and therefore recycling them is fine (so different perception to that of plastic bags). May require bigger push

Action points    

3.1 action point - Automatic Vending Association agreed to send vending machine related data to SG e.g., number of vending machines affected.

3.2 action point - Disability Equality Scotland agreed to send further information to SG to develop these discussions further.

3.3 action point - Zero Waste Scotland to share plastic definitions with Vegware.         

Closing remarks                              

The chair summarised that what we set out to do at this meeting was to give a brief update on the status of the ZWS research, progress the approach to the charge discussion from the previous meeting and explore the implementation of a charge with the advisory group.

Next steps: Minutes from today will be circulated, continue to feed in any further thoughts from networks.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 4th October.

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