Cup charges and plastic bans in Scotland

The Scottish Government is to introduce a Circular Economy Bill, paving the way for a charge on single-use cups.

This year’s Programme for Government, announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week, also includes the development of regulations needed to roll out a national deposit return scheme for drinks containers.

There was also a commitment to “meet or exceed” the objectives set out in the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive. This includes banning “problematic” single-use plastic items like cutlery, plates and food and drink containers, by 2021. “We will take equality interests into account and apply exemptions where appropriate,” the government said.

In the next 12 months there will also be a consultation on an obligation for larger food retailers to redistribute edible products “in line with the waste hierarchy”. Businesses could also be required to publicly report on their surplus waste.

Consultations on the draft of the Circular Economy Bill are due to commence shortly. The inclusion of a charge on disposable coffee cups was expected after government advisors backed the controversial policy in July.

There is “strong evidence that a separate charge for single-use disposable beverage cups should be put in place in Scotland”, concluded the expert panel on environmental charging and other measures (Epecom). Charges are “more effective than discounts”, it noted, and would “change the behaviour of 49% of the population”.

Dame Sue Bruce, the panel’s chair, explained: “… there needs to be a fundamental move away from single-use disposable beverage cups and not just to an improved model for recycling.”

The Foodservice Packaging Association called the move “ironic” given “the strides that have been made on recycling coffee cups”. The FPA said “excellent progress” had been made, through schemes like the Glasgow Cup Movement.

Around 200m single-use disposable beverage cups are consumed each year in Scotland; without intervention this is projected to increase to 310m by 2025. A specific recycling rate for the cups used in Scotland is not available. However, it’s thought to be less than that for the UK, which currently stands at 4%, according to the industry-led Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group.

As well as waste and resources, this year’s Programme focused heavily on the environment and public health. Plans have already been published to set maximum limits for consumption of sugar and certain types of meat in school meals, for example.

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