Scotland’s SUP ban comes into force (kind of)

Market restrictions for plastic cutlery, containers and cups will be in place this week but some suppliers will use the Internal Market Act to dodge the rules. That’s irresponsible and short-termist, says David Burrows.

Supply and manufacture of plastic cutlery, plates and stirrers are from this week (from June 1st) banned in Scotland. So too are food containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene (EPS). Supply of plastic straws and balloon sticks has also been restricted (with exemptions). Plastics made from fossil fuels, as well as those that are compostable and biodegradable, are in scope. The rules bring Scotland into line with the EU Directive on single-use plastics. Well, almost: oxodegradable and oxobiodegradable plastics were originally on the list but ministers want to take another look at the evidence on those.

The bans aren’t quite fully in force either. “Single-use plastics: new laws come into force 01 June 2022*,” reads the headline on the Zero Waste Scotland website (ZWS is the government’s advisor on resources and waste). Scroll down and you eventually come to the footnote: “*Subject to the UK Internal Market Act 2020.” It’s quite an important proviso.

The Act allows suppliers to continue selling banned items through the ‘mutual recognition principle for goods’. Basically, this means Scotland’s new regulations will not apply to any products which are produced or first imported into another part of the UK, and which can be lawfully supplied in that part of the UK. So, firms that sell or produce EPS boxes or compostable cutlery in England can do so in Scotland. 

You could say Brexit has put the brakes on the bans. But only briefly because ministers in Holyrood have been liaising with their Westminster counterparts on an exclusion to the IMA which will close the loophole. 

Delivering a recorded video message to last week’s Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) environment seminar, Scotland’s circular economy minister Lorna Slater said she was “continuing to work with UK government” to ensure there was an exclusion in place. Once that’s done the regulations will be “fully effective”, she explained.

There have been rumours that such an exclusion has yet to be agreed. However, in an email to Footprint, a spokeswoman for the Scottish government said they had secured “welcome agreement” from UK ministers (ministers who, it should be noted, are weighing up similar SUP bans currently). “The UK government has indicated it will exclude the products covered by the ban from the Internal Market Act,” she wrote. 

It’s not in place yet though. “The exclusion will come into force following completion of the relevant UK Parliamentary procedures,” the spokeswoman added, blaming “delays on the UK government side”. “Until this process is complete, the Scottish regulations will only apply to products manufactured in or imported directly into Scotland.”

This should be a matter of weeks rather than months, but what should companies do in the interim? 

Some are promoting the fact they can still supply banned products thanks to the IMA. One of those doing so is Vegware, which is “still able to supply our cutlery and straws made from CPLA, PLA and ecovio in Scotland under the Internal Markets Act”, according to a blog on its website. Its products are being imported via England. 

Regulation and responsibility

“I suspect a lot of UK packaging companies will be in a similar situation,” said the company’s environmental and communications director, Lucy Frankel. “Our UK warehouse is in England. We sell via many UK-wide distributors,” she added, and “managing a Scotland-only product ban would be complicated for the sector”.

Frankel highlighted the need to develop IT systems to block sales of certain products to clients in Scotland; product pdf lists must also be updated solely for Scotland and they have to “ensure telesales teams who deal with thousands of different food products are clear on the cutlery rules in Scotland”. 

Vegware, which was bought by US firm Novolex last year, won’t be the only firm circumventing the bans. It’s totally legal but is it responsible? “We’re encouraging everyone to take action now, regardless,” said the Scottish government spokeswoman.

The other point to make is that it’s unlikely to be the packaging suppliers in the spotlight when national news stories of new laws being ‘flouted’ inevitably emerge. It’ll be the caterer or foodservice business under fire. Others will be complying with the new laws in Scotland from Wednesday, with one firm telling Footprint it is the “responsible approach” and they also want to avoid any reputational damage.

Let’s not forget that these bans are not just aimed at reducing plastic pollution. The Scottish government and its advisors at ZWS have long made the point that they don’t want companies to simply switch to other single-use options: they want them to consider reduction of single-use and to roll out more reusable packaging. Trials have been launched in a bid to demonstrate the environmental, cost and reputational benefits of such systems. 

A 2020 report by ZWS showed that 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods, materials and services produced, used and often thrown out after just one use. “This is the single greatest cause of the climate crisis,” ZWS noted. 

Businesses appreciate the nature of the environmental crisis, it seems, but some are arguing that the cost of living crisis and the current chaos in the supply chain should be prioritised and the raft of packaging policies paused. The National Federation of Fish Friers has also been across the Scottish media the past few days. “As an industry we have always supported anything that is better for the environment, as long as the timing is right,” federation president Andrew Cook told the Daily Record.

Better latte then never?

There were similar calls for delay at last week’s FPA seminar with a raft of new regulations coming over the hill across the UK. In the not too distant future there is extended producer responsibility for packaging, a deposit return scheme, binary labelling and a mandatory take-back scheme for disposable cups.

Scotland is also cracking on with plans to introduce a charge on single-use cups. Its advisory group met for the first time last week to plan what the likes of the FPA see as another attack on their members. “We’re not exactly in favour of cup charges anywhere,” said the association’s executive director Martin Kersh last week. He suggested a so-called ‘latte levy’ could discourage people taking cups back. The advisory group includes behavioural scientists who will be looking closely at such issues. The focus will be on the best policy interventions to reduce single-use packaging.

Some of these changes are undoubtedly uncomfortable for the foodservice sector and those who supply into it but they are arguably long overdue. Neither the FPA or the BBIA, which represents the bio-based and biodegradable industry – including compostable packaging manufacturers – would comment directly on whether members should be aligning with the bans from June 1st or exploiting the IMA loophole for the time being. 

However, BBIA managing director David Newman, who has been vocal in his criticism of the way some of the packaging policies have been drawn up, said: “There is never a good time to change business models for many because there will be losers and they want to avoid that. But if now, in the depths of a climate and resource emergency, is not the right time, when will there ever be?"

1 Response

  1. WHY can this not be across the UK
    Why is it that England and Wales and No Ireland do not have the same BAN
    Thousands of tons of polystyrene products must be sitting in warehouses and after the SCOTLAND BAN these will re-emerge and get into the other markets to get rid of stock and great offers will be given by the wholesalers and the greedy will lap these up and push it out through their outlets.

    this is ridiculous
    All the nations of the Kingdom should act together and stem the flow altogether.

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