Scotland to increase carrier bag levy and place charge on disposable drinks cups

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 4 February 2019

Scotland has taken the lead amongst the home nations to increase the current 5p single-use carrier bag charge and put a levy on disposable take-away drinks cups.

Plastic Bag underwater
© Rich Carey / Shutterstock

We are, however, still in the foothills of the bigger journey to a true zero waste, zero carbon circular economy that will benefit people and planet.

Calum Duncan,
MCS Head of Conservation, Scotland

Scottish National Party secured the support of the Greens to pass its government’s budget last Thursday and among the environmental measures announced by the Scottish finance secretary, Derek Mackay, was the promise to increase the current single-use carrier bag charge to a minimum of 10p ‘at the earliest opportunity’. There was also an agreement to place a charge on disposable drinks cups from cafes and restaurants – although no suggestion of the likely amount.

Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation Scotland, says the commitments are pleasing: “The Scottish Government’s budget deal, including a commitment to increase Scotland’s carrier bag charge to 10p, will, we hope, encourage even more shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the shops. It is also encouraging that there is a commitment in principle to introduce a charge on disposable drinks cups. Combined with the Scottish Government’s UK-leading commitment to a deposit return system, that we hope will be designed to include plastic, glass and cans, these are welcome steps to help stop the plastic tide lapping our shores.”

The announcement puts Scotland ahead of the other home nations when it comes to increased single-use charges.

Dr Laura Foster is MCS Head of Clean Seas: “England is currently consulting on increasing their plastic bag charge to 10p, so it’s great to see Scotland take the lead with the increase. While we have seen voluntarily discounts for coffee cups, we know from studies that charging has a much greater impact than discounting and mandatory charges would introduce a level playing field.”

MCS says it wants to see the same charge implemented all over the UK, and there now doesn’t seem to be any reason why Westminster doesn’t forge ahead with an increase from a 5p to 10p charge alongside Scotland – at the same ‘earliest opportunity’.

Ministers in Scotland are the first to agree “in principle” to a new charge on disposable drinks cups bought from coffee shops, cafés and other retailers.

In a letter from Finance Minister, Derek Mackay, to Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens co-convener, Mr Mackay said the Government recognised the success of the single use carrier bag charge in reducing their use and noted that some retailers had already begun to increase charges to 10p. He added: “We established an expert panel to advise on the use of charging to reduce single use disposable drinks cups. We agree that environmental charges have a role to play in influencing consumer behaviour, in the way we have seen with the charge on single use bags and agree in principle to the use of charging in relation to disposable drinks cups, alongside other measures to promote the changes that we want and need to see in Scotland.

On their website, Scottish Greens said: “Greens have also secured a commitment to introduce charges on single-use plastic drinks cups with a legislative proposal to be published later this year. Our calculations suggest a 25p levy per cup could raise between £50m to £200m per year.’

Welcoming both announcements, Calum Duncan said: “We are, however, still in the foothills of the bigger journey to a true zero waste, zero carbon circular economy that will benefit people and planet.”

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