Getting ready for new plastic rules

Ian Gulland of Zero Waste Scotland explains potential changes

Ian Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said 77% of Scots are concerned about packaging

The last year has been challenging for all of us. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only changed lives, but it has also changed the way many businesses operate.

In order to continue to serve their customers, many food and drink retailers have had to adapt the way they do business, be that through the introduction of new food to go services or offering home delivery. For some, this was already the norm, but for others it is part of the new norm.

The increase in takeaway operations has driven a rise in the use of single-use items related to serving and eating food. These single-use items cannot be recycled and so end up as waste. Not only that, many will sadly be discarded as litter.

As Scotland continues to open up, and staycations boom, more and more of us are enjoying time outdoors. With this comes concern about an increase in littering, particularly at beauty spots. Littering is a systemic and problematic issue, and it must be met head on.

With our Scotland is Stunning campaign, we are asking anyone enjoying a day trip or staycation to take their litter home with them or bin it, but wouldn’t it be better if there was less of this litter to start with?

Many businesses are already taking steps to reduce waste, but there is still work to do.

We need to become more sustainable now.

As part of a wider package of measures to tackle our throwaway society, the Scottish Government has published draft regulations which intend to ban problematic single-use plastic items. The items that would be banned include plates, cutlery, and expanded polystyrene food containers, which are the most commonly found sources of marine litter in Europe.

Flat lay composition disposable plastic tableware. plastic processing problem

The anticipated introduction of these new regulations could be a catalyst for real change.

Businesses have a real opportunity to embrace more sustainable practices ahead of the intended legislation and go further than just swapping these single-use plastics for other disposable items. Instead, there is an opportunity to consider, could we remove the need for single-use in the first place?

Customers are becoming more aware of the impact of single-use. In fact, research carried out by Zero Waste Scotland shows that 77% of Scots are concerned about the amount of single-use packaging and single-use plastic items we use in Scotland.

Not only that, most of Scotland is concerned about litter levels in their local area – a quarter of people see it as a serious problem and a third of the population has seen an increase in litter since the pandemic started. 

This concern is not unwarranted. In Scotland alone we use an estimated 300 million plastic straws, 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery, 50 million plastic plates and 66 million polystyrene food containers. And this can end up as litter or in our oceans.

The uncomfortable truth is that in our current state of climate emergency, we might have as little as 12 years to begin reversing the trend. This throwaway culture must stop.

Imagine the environmental saving if we were to move away from these disposable options. What we’re suggesting isn’t impossible. It’s just about rethinking your set up to reduce the need for single-use items and thinking reuse first. Do you really need to offer a stirrer when a washable teaspoon could suffice? Is there an option for customers to use refillable bottles?

The anticipated introduction of these new regulations could be a catalyst for real change.

These are just a few simple reusable solutions that businesses could adopt – offering fewer single-use items to their customers and encouraging them to switch to reusable alternatives. 

When you truly cannot avoid single-use items, try to choose materials which have a lower environmental impact, such as those which are recyclable.

By embracing more circular models, you can show your customers that your business is committed to playing its part in the green recovery.

Preventing litter is everyone’s responsibility, whether you are a business owner, retailer, manufacturer or consumer. We all have a part to play in driving real, sustainable change.

Scotland is stunning, let’s keep it that way.

To find out more about the Scotland Is Stunning campaign visit