OPINION: Plastic bans are not an excuse to switch materials

Scotland is consulting on market restrictions for certain single-use plastics. Businesses need to change so they use fewer resources, says Zero Waste Scotland’s David Barnes

The Scottish Government consultation on new market restrictions for certain single-use plastic items runs until January 4th 2021.

These restrictions align with Article 5 of the single-use plastics directive (SUPD) and will lead to a ban on single-use plastic plates, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, polystyrene food and drink containers, beverage stirrers, plastic balloon sticks and products made from oxo-degradable plastics.

In taking this approach, Scotland is keeping pace with countries across the European Union and, like Wales, has committed to implementing the directive. This will result in a number of new measures being introduced over the next four to five years including those to reduce the number of single-use cups and food containers. There will also be extended producer responsibility schemes to make producers responsible for managing products and packaging when it becomes waste. 

These measures are in line with the public mood and heightened concerns over the impact of plastic on the environment. They also align with other Scottish Government policy to reduce single-use plastic. Businesses will need to change.

The biggest impact will be achieved if this is seen as an opportunity to challenge whether single-use items are required at all. Taking the market restrictions as an example, there are reusable alternatives available for all items where restrictions are proposed, such as metal cutlery, which presents an opportunity for businesses to take a new approach and engage in a different way with customers.

Indeed, it’s not about going from plastic to compostable and simply substituting one single-use item with another. Protecting the environment is the main driver of the consultation and to do this successfully we absolutely have to find ways to use fewer materials. In Scotland our material use accounts for four fifths of our overall carbon impact.

As an example, Bowhouse working estate in Fife has focused on reducing single-use plastic consumption with the businesses that take part in its market weekends. Over the course of 2020 the team has liaised with traders and customers on the packaging of products to achieve their sustainability goals.

Starting a discussion with customers and partners will put your business in a better place to make changes that work for the people that matter to you.

In addressing what they use, businesses have the opportunity to engage and show that their credentials match those of their customers.

Final regulations on the market restrictions are expected in late 2021. Ongoing activity related to these other activities will also start next year. So, get ahead of the game, change is coming and the time has come to consider how your business will be affected in the years ahead.

David Barnes is policy manager at Zero Waste Scotland.

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