Scottish consumers spend £600 million annually on single-use packaging

Scottish consumers are spending a total of £600 million a year on more than 300,000 tonnes of single-use packaging for their groceries every year, according to a new report by Zero Waste Scotland.

The front page of the report by Zero Waste Scotland

The new report, released by the government-funded waste reduction and resource efficiency organisation, entitled ‘The hidden cost of grocery packaging’, lifts the lid on the financial cost of the single-use packaging hidden in the overall price of groceries found on supermarket shelves.

According to the report, the average Scottish household buys 130 kilogrammes of single-use grocery packaging each year, costing almost £250 and accounting for roughly seven per cent of the average annual grocery bill.

The report revealed that, in addition to this, Scots also pay around £40 million a year in waste management costs incurred by local authorities which must deal with this single-use packaging once it has been disposed of.

Behavioural science indicates that consumers will avoid packaging if they are aware of how much it is costing them, according to Zero Waste Scotland’s report. If consumers are given a clear price signal to inform them of the real cost of single-use packaging, they will seek reusable packaging and packaging-free alternatives.

Scotland’s deposit return scheme

Scotland has made strides in reducing single-use waste, announcing the final design of its deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers in May. The DRS scheme will see a 20 pence fee charged on top of the cost of a product, which can then be recouped when the used product is returned to the retailer for recycling. By placing a price value on packaging, the incentive aims to boost recycling rates and change consumer attitudes towards single-use waste.

The scheme will cover all containers above 50 mililitres and up to three litres made from aluminium and steel, glass or PET plastic. This ‘all-in’ model, which accepts containers of varying size and material, will allow consumers to choose whether they return their containers to get their deposit back, or put them in their kerbside recycling bins.

Scotland has been the first UK nation to commit to a DRS, despite discussions of similar schemes being held across the UK. In March 2018, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced plans for England to introduce a DRS, subject to the results of a consultation, which concluded in May of this year.

Scotland has forged ahead of England in previous waste reducing initiatives, such as the single-use carrier bag charge, which was enforced in Scotland in October 2014, a year earlier than England’s plastic bag levy.

The charge on carrier bags in Scotland followed similar charges in Wales and Northern Ireland, which saw reductions in carrier bag use by 80 and 70 per cent respectively, indicating that the introduction of price values can have a positive effect on changing consumer attitudes towards single-use waste.

You can read the full report on the Zero Waste Scotland website.


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