Our chance to tell the Scottish Government to tackle single-use plastic

Date posted: 27 October 2020

Do you want to make a huge difference to the amount of plastic we throw away each year? Then read on. The Scottish Government is asking if you think single-use plastic items like cutlery, stirrers, and cups should be banned in Scotland.

We want to move away from a ‘make, use and throw’ society which has led us to these unacceptable levels of litter entering Scotland’s seas from our cities, rivers and canals.

Catherine Gemmell,
Scotland Conservation Officer

Scotland led the way on banning single-use plastic cotton bud sticks thanks in part to all of you who gathered evidence on their numbers on Scottish beaches through our Beachwatch programme. Now it’s time for more of that vital beach litter data to be used as evidence in a new consultation to tackle items like plates, cups and food containers made of expanded polystyrene.

Can you help?

We’ve been recording the amount of single-use plastics on Scottish beaches for nearly 30 years. At last year’s Great British Beach Clean, plastic items and pieces were among the most commonly found items on beaches in Scotland, with an average of 317 items found for every 100m of Scottish beach. That means you can’t take more than a few steps on most beaches without seeing plastic litter, which not only spoils our enjoyment of the beach, but has harmful effects on marine wildlife. This is why we need your help to get a ban on these items.

Catherine Gemmell, our Scotland Conservation Officer said: “Thanks to our volunteers’ data we can clearly see there is a massive and growing problem of plastic on Scotland’s beaches.”

“The power that we have as individual citizens cannot be underestimated – we’ve seen this in action when this data was used as evidence for the EU Single Use Plastic Directive.”

“The Scottish Government is now running a consultation asking you how they should tackle single-use plastics. We want to move away from a ‘make-use-throw’ society which has led to these unacceptable levels of litter entering Scotland’s seas. They need to hear from all of us and you can make your voice heard by taking part in this public consultation.”

How to respond

It’s vital that as many people as possible take part in the new consultation. Below we have highlighted our answers to some of the questions that might be helpful when writing your response to the Scottish Government.

You can respond to the questions you want to answer (remember you do not have to answer them all) by using the Scottish Government portal here.

Remember you don’t need to use our suggestions, please do feel free to use your own words. It is your response, so let them know how you feel.

Question 1(a):

Do you support the proposal to introduce a restriction on the supply by businesses in a commercial capacity in Scotland on each of the single-use plastic items listed and all oxo-degradable products?

We will be answering yes to all items listed.

Question 1(b):

Please give reasons and where possible provide evidence to support the view expressed in response to Question 1(a).

During the 2019 Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean volunteers found in Scotland, on average, 492 pieces of litter for every 100m of Scottish beach surveyed. Of these 317 were plastic, demonstrating that we need to reduce the amount of plastic entering Scotland’s seas where we know they threaten our incredible marine wildlife through ingestion and entanglement.

We therefore support the ban on the items listed above as a first step to reduce this flow of plastic into Scotland’s seas, although it should go further and include other single-use plastics, like plastic sachets (these aren’t recycled) and single-use plastic cigarette filters. Banning is a better choice than charging more for these items - alternative solutions where needed are available, which have much lower environmental impacts.

Question 5:

This consultation highlights other items that the Scottish Government intends to consider market restrictions for in future (plastic wet wipes, plastic tampon applicators and those other products contained in the UK Plastics Pact’s list of items to be eliminated by end of 2020 which are not currently subject to existing or proposed market restrictions). Would you support the consideration of market restrictions on these items or any other items we haven’t listed? Please provide reasons and evidence where possible.

We need to move away from a single-use and ‘make-use-throw’ society to a circular and reuse one where litter disappears. We cannot recycle our way out of our current plastics crisis and we should not simply replace a single-use plastic item with one made from a “biodegradable” alternative as this keeps us locked into our linear ‘make-use-throw’ society and economy.

We want Scottish Government Ministers to keep to their commitment to meet or exceed the level of ambition of the EU Single Use Plastics Directive.

The EU directive included other ways beyond the bans proposed in this consultation including reduction targets, labelling, extended producer responsibility (a policy where producers pay costs towards the disposal at the end of a products life) as well as public awareness campaigns and cost of clean-up. These other measures should be applied to items such as packets, wrappers, sanitary towels and fishing gear.

Other items we would like the Scottish Government to consider include:


In 2019 on Scottish beaches 15.5 cigarettes butts were found on average for every 100m surveyed, and it was the eighth most prevalent litter type found during the Great British Beach Clean weekend.

We support the ban of plastic cigarette filters as outlined in the public statement published by the Marine Conservation Society, ASH Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful, and a review of other single use filters’ biodegradability and health implications. It highlights concern that there is a general lack of awareness that part of the stub is a plastic filter and that the filters do not benefit health, although two thirds of smokers think they do. This highlights that while Extended Producer Responsibility should also be applied, an outright ban on plastic filters would bring both environmental and health improvements.

Please find our full joint statement on cigarette litter here.

Balloons and sky lanterns

Balloons should also be subject to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and awareness raising. Although sky lanterns are typically made of paper, they are a single-use item which cause environmental harm, are a potential fire risk and waste vital emergency service time and resource. We suggest that Scottish government legislates to ban mass sky lantern and intentional balloon releases.

Wet wipes

Shockingly, wet wipes were the fourth most prevalent item found on Scottish beaches during the 2019 Great British Beach Clean, where dedicated MCS volunteers recorded 36.7 per 100m. Plastic wet wipes should be banned. Extended Producer Responsibility should be applied to all other types of wipes, and the cost of their clean-up, appropriate labelling and consumer awareness-raising campaigns should be borne by industry.

For a full list or further information on how to respond to the consultation please email our Scotland Conservation Officer at catherine.gemmell@mcsuk.org before 21st December 2020.

Thank you for taking the time to be the voice Scotland’s seas need to stop the plastic tide.

Actions you can take