Scotland closes in on single-use cup charge

Scotland this week moved closer to introducing a mandatory 20p to 25p charge on single-use cups, as well as wider bans of cups in offices and at events and festivals. The government’s expert panel on environmental charging and other measures (Epecom) also called for a reduction target and said efforts to increase recycling infrastructure for cups will have “limited impact”.

After a year reviewing all the evidence on how to reduce consumption of the cups, Epecom concluded that there is “strong evidence that a separate charge for single-use disposable beverage cups should be put in place in Scotland”. Charges are “more effective than discounts”, it noted, and would “change the behaviour of 49% of the population”. The charge should be “separate from the price of the beverage” and introduced alongside a new national social marketing strategy to promote sustainable consumption.

The panel also noted that reuse rates remain stubbornly low at just 1% to 2% of sales. “The accessibility and convenience of reusable cups must also be improved as part of the paradigm shift towards a culture of sustainability,” it concluded.

The Scottish Government’s decision in June 2018 to remove all single-use cups from its estates has proved “highly effective” in reducing consumption, the panel said. Mandatory bans on single-use cups should therefore be considered in other “closed loop settings”, such as festivals and office blocks. This could see 100% reduction of single use cups achieved “very rapidly”.

The panel noted industry efforts to increase recycling of single use cups. In January, the so-called “Cup Movement”, involving Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group (PCRRG), was launched in Glasgow. The likes of Costa, McDonald’s UK, Greggs, Starbucks UK and Pret A Manger have all put new collection points in place.

However, Epecom said that more in-store infrastructure will only have “limited impact” because most of the drinks are bought to be consumed (and therefore disposed of) on-the-go. 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.”

Around 200m single-use disposable beverage cups are consumed each year in Scotland; without intervention this is projected to increase to 310m 
by 2025.

This week it was also revealed that NHS Scotland alone has bought more than 189m single-use cups in the past five years, costing £1.7m. NHS Scotland, together with Zero Waste Scotland, has been trialling reusable cups schemes in some hospital canteens; and these are proving “highly effective” in reducing use of disposable cups.

Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham will now consider the panel’s recommendations. A charge on cups has however already been agreed “in principle” as part of a deal struck between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens for the 2019-20 budget.

In Westminster, the chancellor Philip Hammond has maintained a levy on cups “would not at this time be effective in encouraging widespread reuse”.

However, with recycling rates of one in 25 cups and consumption actually rising (to 3 billion in 2018), the UK will have to do something to meet new EU laws. As part of the EU Single Use Plastics Directive, which the UK is likely to have to implement, member states must “achieve an ambitious and sustained reduction” in the consumption of single-use plastic cups.

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