Catherine Gee: Charges for single-use cups a move in sustainable circular direction

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: In this photo illustration a disposable coffee cup sits on a wall on January 05, 2018 in Manchester, England. Some members of the UK Parliament are calling for a 25p levy on all disposable coffee cups to drive consumers to the re-usable variety and to fund the costs of recycling. (Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: In this photo illustration a disposable coffee cup sits on a wall on January 05, 2018 in Manchester, England. Some members of the UK Parliament are calling for a 25p levy on all disposable coffee cups to drive consumers to the re-usable variety and to fund the costs of recycling. (Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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The vision of a circular economy represents a clear alternative to our present ways of making use of our planet’s resources. While in Scotland today there continues to be a large amount of waste inherent to some of our most common production and consumption habits, a fully circular economy is one in which there is no waste: the economy runs entirely on materials which are sustainable and reusable.

The idea of a circular economy is not just an impracticable pipe-dream: the Dutch government has already put considerable effort into achieving its goal of a fully circular, waste-free economy by 2050, while Finland is currently working towards an even more ambitious goal of a circular economy by 2025.

It is in this context – as well as that of the ongoing climate emergency – that the Scottish Government recently set out its proposals for a Circular Economy Bill, with a view to putting one to the Scottish Parliament in 2020. We at Keep Scotland Beautiful believe that such a Bill can play a crucial role in ensuring Scotland continues to make progress against key international benchmarks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and commitments in Scotland through the new Zero Waste Scotland strategy. We are delighted to welcome the proposals and in particular two measures that we believe have an important role to play in this regard.

Firstly, the upcoming Bill proposes the introduction of charges for single-use disposable drinks cups.

Single use cups are an apt symbol of some of the broader problems with the ways in which we produce and consume at present: ubiquitous in cafes and coffee shops across the country, we in Scotland use an estimated 200 million a year. Being difficult to recycle, these cups are often used just once before ending up incinerated or in landfill – generating around 4,000 tonnes of waste and 5,900 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

We have campaigned on this issue for some time, and launched our Cup Movement ® in Glasgow in 2019, working with those who buy, sell and use these cups to encourage more sustainable cup choices and trial different ways of reducing waste. We believe that the proposed charge will make consumers more aware of the impact their choices can have, encouraging the use of more sustainable alternatives and helping cut waste, litter and carbon emissions.

Thinking more broadly, success in changing people’s attitudes towards single use cups may in turn help bring about a shift in perspective regarding our use of a variety of single use items in our everyday lives – and about the sustainable consumption habits we could foster instead.

Another much-welcomed proposal by the Scottish Government is to strengthen the ability to punish those responsible for throwing litter from vehicles.

Roadside litter is an ugly and costly problem, and another issue on which we have long campaigned through our Roadside Litter Campaign. Every month, about seven tonnes of litter are collected from the M8 and M9 alone. On a single two-day spring clean earlier this year, 124 bags of litter were cleared from just a seven-mile stretch of the A82.

The move to treat the registered owner of the vehicle as being ultimately responsible for this crime and issuing them with a fixed penalty represents an important step forward, sending the message that you can – and will – be punished if caught committing this offence. Given that the need to identify the offender is currently the main barrier to enforcing the law in this area, we believe that this measure has the potential to contribute positively to dealing with Scotland’s roadside litter problem.

Importantly, public support for tackling the problem is also clear. Our research has shown that 73 per cent of people think there has been no improvement in roadside litter levels in recent years – with 45 per cent thinking the problem has worsened. Crucially, 88 per cent of people who responded to our research agreed that the owner should face a fine when litter is thrown from their vehicle.

The Scottish Government’s Circular Economy proposals are a welcome step forward in the tackling of the climate emergency and the creation of a more sustainable Scotland. However, we at Keep Scotland Beautiful are also of the firm belief that in the context of a climate emergency, the proposed measures cannot represent the entirety of our action. We look forward to working in partnership with others to ensure that more is done going forward to move the reality in Scotland further towards the vision of a truly circular economy.

Catherine Gee is Operations Director at Keep Scotland Beautiful