The Scottish Government is considering a proposal to charge consumers 20 to 25p for single-use disposable cups, after an expert panel found it would encourage more use of reusable alternatives.

The Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures(EPECOM) found 200 million single-use disposable beverage cups were consumed each year in Scotland and without intervention, this is projected to increase to 310 million by 2025, according to EPECOM’s report.

A charge of at least 20p would be needed to change the behaviour of 49% of the population, according to an academic literature review from the University of Cardiff, which was commissioned by the panel.

The review did note that though the cup charge would be effective and unlikely to affect hot drinks sales, the use of single-use disposable cups is more resistant to behavioural change than single-use carrier bags.

EPECOM was set up in May 2018 to advise Scottish ministers on charges which have the potential to encourage long-term and sustainable changes to consumer and producer behaviour.

The Panel advises that promoting cultural and behavioural change is critical and will underpin the success of implementing any of the other measures recommended.

A range of other measures and interventions have been provided in the Panel’s report, which states that there is “no single solution” to reducing single-use cup use given the complexities of how people access on-the-go beverages.

As well as introducing a charge for disposable cups, the report highlights the need for a fundamental change to make reusable containers more accessible and convenient.

Retailers should encourage reuse at point of sale and single-use cups should be banned in settings where this is possible – such as workplaces or festivals – the Scottish panel believes. Trials to establish this culture should take place in significant locations in Scotland, potentially by the end of 2019.

The panel also suggested that the Scottish government consider an “ambitious” national consumption reduction target for single-use disposable beverage cups. It also supported banning the sale of non-recyclable expanded polystyrene/PVC cups by 2021, in line with EU Single-use Plastics Directive.

Welcoming the report, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

“Disposable cups present an obvious littering issue, but there is ever-growing awareness within our society of the impact single-use plastic has on our wider environment.

“The scale of the issue is also clear – as is the Expert Panel’s conclusion that no one measure alone will be effective: our approach to reducing single-cup use must involve a joined-up effort across government, business, communities and individuals.” 

“I am grateful to the Expert Panel for their thorough, evidence-based assessment of measures to reduce the consumption of single-use cups in Scotland. I will be giving the report’s findings my full consideration and will respond to the Panel’s recommendations in due course.”

Dame Sue Bruce, Chair, Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures said:

“Over the first year the Panel has focused its attentions on single-use disposable beverage cups. We have discovered that there are many complex issues to tackle and a myriad of factors that must be considered. We have asked questions about what we can do together in Scotland – as consumers, communities, producers, retailers and government – to radically change our attitudes and our use of single-use items.

Our conclusion is that there needs to be a fundamental move away from single-use disposable beverage cups and not just to an improved model for recycling. We have recommended a range of measures to achieve this – including charging separately for disposable cups and developing pilots to promote reusable cups.”