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Scotland’s single-use plastics ban to finally take full effect next month

Scotland's single use plastic ban
Polystyrene takeaway containers like these will soon be a thing of the past if people abide by the new rules. Photo: Shutterstock.

Scotland’s single use plastic ban will come into full effect next month after a loophole which undermined the new law has finally been closed.

Although the ban “officially” came in on June 1, a technicality of the UK Internal Market Act allowed businesses to provide banned single-use items as long as they originated elsewhere in the UK.

This meant that the ban wasn’t nearly as effective as first expected and made it difficult to enforce.

polystyrene boxes will soon be banned
When the ban began in June, many wholesalers still had lots of stock of the banned items which they were not able to sell legally. Meanwhile, customers could get the same products from an English company completely legally.

However the UK Government has now opted to exempt the single-use plastic ban from the Internal Market Act.

This change – which takes effect on August 12 – means it will be an offence to supply and use plastic goods such as cutlery, straws, cups and food containers anywhere in Scotland.

What items are restricted?

The new regulations will be imposed on various single-use plastic items which are among the most commonly found pieces of marine litter in Europe.

  • Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks and other similar utensils)
  • Plates
  • Plastic straws
  • Beverage stirrers
  • Food containers made of expanded polystyrene
  • Cups and lids made of expanded polystyrene
  • Balloon sticks

As of August 12, the ban will be completely effective in Scotland and it will be unlawful to make and/or supply commercially the above items in this country, regardless of whether they are produced or first imported into another part of the UK.

Supply also includes businesses making donations or gifts of items for free.

Single use items banned in Scotland

What happens to anyone who continues to use the banned items?

According to the Scottish Government, failure to comply with the regulations carries a maximum fine of £5,000.

This does not apply to people who need plastic straws for medical reasons.

For businesses which have lots of stock leftover, there is no grace period.

The regulations were laid before the Scottish Parliament on 11 November 2021, and with more than six months between the regulations being laid and them coming into force on June 1, the government says businesses affected by the ban have had plenty time to prepare.

Single use containers stacked up in a takeaway shop in Aberdeen
Polystyrene boxes like these pictured in an Aberdeen takeaway in June are now banned.

Last month a wholesaler in Inverness began a call for a moratorium to allow stocks of banned single use plastics to be sold and used, instead of thrown straight into landfill.

However the Scottish Government insisted businesses were given ample notice via a radio, digital and email campaign – and said surplus stock should be “recycled where possible”.

Why was there a delay in properly implementing the ban?

The Scottish Government originally introduced the ban on June 1 earlier this year but the UK Internal Market Act put a bit of a spanner in the works.

The act allows businesses from all parts of the UK to trade unhindered with each other and meant that buyers could still purchase the banned plastics – as long as they were bought and made in England.

Businesses in Scotland say they were left in the dark about this small print, and feared that regular customers would take their business south of the border.

However the exemption has now been secured, meaning that the supply and use of any of these plastics in Scotland is illegal, regardless of where they were made or sourced.

Iain Gulland, Zero Waste Scotland
Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland. Supplied by Zero Waste Scotland.

It’s not clear why it has taken more than two months since the ban was implemented to secure this exemption.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Single-use items are emblematic of our throwaway culture and an unjustifiably large contributor to our carbon footprint in Scotland.

“We know we need to break up with single-use if we’re serious about tackling the climate crisis, and the ban on single-use plastic items is an essential step.

“The ban being fully enforceable in Scotland from 12 August represents another exciting shift towards a circular economy.”

Read more about Scotland’s single use plastic ban: