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Scottish Government to legislate for single-use cup charge

Scottish Government to legislate for single-use cup charge
An estimated 4,000 tonnes of waste is generated by single-use cups each year
The Scottish Government is set to legislate for a charge to be applied on single-use drinks cups in a bid to reduce the consumption and environmental impact of the disposable products.

The proposal will be included in the forthcoming Circular Economy Bill, with consultations forthcoming to decide the level of the charge – most likely between 20 and 25 pence per cup.

It is estimated that 200 million single-use disposable beverage cups are consumed in Scotland each year, and this is predicted to increase to 310 million by 2025. Currently, only 0.25 per cent of these cups are recycled in the UK.

Not only is this an issue in terms of generating landfill and carbon emissions through incineration, but coffee cups also contribute significantly to Scotland’s litter problem – around 40,000 disposable cups are littered across the country each year.

The Scottish Government advisory group, the Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures (EPECOM), held discussions in July to establish the most effective ways to reduce Scotland’s dependence on single-use disposable beverage cups.

EPECOM suggests that while charging is considered effective, the consumption of single-use disposable beverage cups is more resistant to behaviour change interventions than, for example, single-use carrier bags. Taking this into account, alongside research from Cardiff University, the panel decided a minimum charge of 20 pence would be needed to change behaviour of 49 per cent of the population. The recommendation as it stands is to set the charge at 20 to 25 pence.

Recent research from Zero Waste Scotland indicates that charging for disposable cups can be more effective in encouraging consumers to switch to reusable cups than offering discounts for keep-cups.

WHile EPECOM’s focus has been on coffee cups made from cardboard lined with plastic, which are difficult to recycle due to their composite nature, the prospect of banning all non-recyclable expanded polystyrene and PVC cups by 2021 has also been taken into consideration. EPECOM’s discussions concluded that, while this would remove cups of these materials from waste stream, it wouldn’t have a big impact on the number of waterproof cardboard cups being used or encourage the utilisation of keep cups so additional measures are required.

Advancing the circular economy

The plan to charge for all disposable beverage cups is one of a range of measures the Scottish Government is implementing as part of its new Circular Economy Bill, which aims to change attitudes towards waste and tackle the country’s throw-away culture.

Alongside tackling drinks container waste – both through a charge on single-use cups and through the country’s upcoming deposit return scheme (DRS), set to be implemented in 2021 –  there will also be a consultation on raising the minimum amount for the single-use carrier bag charge from five pence to 10 pence, in line with the standards set out in the European Union’s Single Use Plastic Directive.

In response to EPECOM’s publication, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham, said: “The scale of the challenge is clear – an estimated 4,000 tonnes of waste is generated by single-use cups each year, wasting valuable raw materials and generating unnecessary CO2 emissions in the process.

“For Scotland to become a net zero society, we need a fundamental re-think about how we use and reuse materials and how we handle waste. That is why I am proposing further bold action to tackle Scotland’s reliance on single-use items.

“I am clear, however – as is the Panel’s advice – that no single measure will be effective on its own. Our approach must involve a joined-up effort across government, business, communities and individuals. Whether it is making the decision to switch from disposable to reusable cups or making sure cups are dealt with more effectively at the end of their life, we all need to do more to support a more circular economy and reduce our environmental impact.

“We are taking forward a range of other recommendations made by the panel, to support the cultural and behaviour change that will be required to truly tackle our throwaway culture.”

Cunningham added in a letter to EPECOM Chair Dame Sue Bruce: ‘We will shortly be consulting on the Bill proposals, and will actively engage with stakeholders to help inform the development of any future charging regime, and help industry and retail to design and adopt a voluntary approach to charging in anticipation of the planned legislation.’

As well as charging for disposable cups, the Expert Panel recommends: the trial of reusable cup rental schemes; the promotion of cup recycling through clearer consumer messaging and innovation in cup design; and the use of social marketing measures to ‘shift the paradigm’ so that unsustainable consumption becomes socially unacceptable and sustainable consumption becomes the social norm.

EPECOM’s report can be read in full on the Scottish Government website.

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