As Scotland takes steps back to normality following the pandemic, our rural and green areas are expected to see a flurry of visitors. This raises concerns about littering. We are encouraging anyone spending time enjoying Scotland’s natural beauty and wildlife to take their litter home with them or bin it. But wouldn’t it be better if there was less of this litter in the first place?
As part of a wider package of measures to tackle our throwaway society, the Scottish Government has published draft regulations to ban problematic single-use plastic items. Those items would include plates, cutlery and expanded polystyrene food containers, which are the most commonly found sources of marine litter in Europe.
The anticipated introduction of these market restrictions is another exciting step towards a circular economy in Scotland. But more than that, it can be a catalyst for real change in the way manufacturers and retailers think about what they are offering to their customers.
More and more customers are challenging their suppliers to improve their green credentials. In fact, research carried out by Zero Waste Scotland indicates 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 Scottish people are concerned about litter levels in their local area – a quarter see it as a serious problem and a third of the population have 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 every year. 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.
There is a real opportunity for businesses to embrace more sustainable practices ahead of the intended legislation. Moving towards a more circular economy will benefit society and the environment.
We’re calling on businesses to prioritise action on single-use items by removing any unnecessary items altogether. Imagine the environmental saving if, where possible, we were to move away from these disposable options. We aren’t asking for the impossible. We’re asking businesses to consider reusable solutions – offering fewer single-use items to their customers and encouraging them to switch to reusable longer-term alternatives.
This change would be a positive step for the environment, but it could also result in a significant cost saving for businesses. A circular economy really is good for business, in more ways than one.
There is another incentive, of course. A UK-wide second stage consultation on introducing a new extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging recently closed. This would mean producers pay the full cost of dealing with packaging at the end of its life, which would encourage them to increase the recyclability of packaging and reduce litter. Reducing the amount of packaging used in production makes sense: in the long run it will save you money.
Across the whole supply chain, businesses are already taking steps to become more sustainable, but there is still work to do. It is a stark reality that a lot of packaging ends up as litter, and ultimately any packaging that cannot be recycled creates unnecessary waste.
Preventing litter is everyone’s responsibility, whether you are a business owner, retailer, manufacturer or consumer. We all have a part to play, from production to disposal.
Scotland is stunning, and together we can keep it that way.