THROWAWAY plastics which blight our coastlines and kill wildlife are to be banned in Scotland by 2030.

The move by the Scottish Government matches an EU commitment announced last week, but it would not apply to the UK after Brexit.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald, environment minister Roseanna Cunningham revealed she has instructed civil servants to look at restricting the sale and manufacture of all non-recyclable plastics “on an item by item basis”.

Loading article content

The announcement has been hailed by environmental campaigners in Scotland as the “strongest possible statement that we are serious about getting rid of plastic”.

The EU pledged to make all plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030 in a bid to reduce the amount of straws, bottles, cups, lids, stirrers, cutlery and takeaway packaging that end up in our seas and on our beaches.

Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European Commission (EC), which proposes legislation, said Brussels’ priority was to clamp down on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again”. He said: “If we don't change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050.”

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Cunningham matched the EU’s 2030 commitment and urged the UK Government to do that same. She said: “The EU has been bold by making that statement and obviously they’ve yet to legislate for that so there’s a process that they will go through which will involve member states. Sadly, of course, if Brexit goes through, it won’t involve the United Kingdom.

“I would very, very much want to support the EU’s position. We will, in Scotland, continue to match the best possible ambition that there is, and particularly match what Brussels is doing.

“One of the issues we can’t ignore is there are some powers, such as product standards and taxation, which are not currently in our gift to make changes because there is a devolved and reserved split.

“We would be either wanting the UK government to concede that we could have these powers to go ahead or, alternatively, for the UK Government to sign up to the same ambition and vision so that we are all able to move forward as fast as possible on this.”

The Scottish Government is already planning to introduce a deposit return scheme which would see customers pay a surcharge on plastic bottles which will be refunded when they return them to a shop. And last week plans were announced to ban plastic cotton buds in Scotland.

Cunningham said: “We want to mirror the EU commitment [to phase out non-recyclable plastic] where it is practicably and legally possible for us to do it. I’ve asked our officials to look at these item by item. The first question I asked was, if we can do this for cotton buds why can’t we do this for other items? The response I got was we can’t just do it as a list, we have to look at it item by item.”

In the Programme for Government the Scottish Government pledged to host an international conference aimed at reducing marine plastics and committed half a million pounds to develop a policy to address marine plastics, including dealing with offshore deposits known as litter sinks.

Cunningham added: “We’re also setting up an expert panel to look at single-use plastic. One of the things it must look at is the question around levies and taxes. The levies we employed on plastic carrier bags was able to be done because it wasn’t a government tax, it was a levy on retailers. We must look at that.

“There is possibility open to actually ask the UK to do an order that would allow us to do things. That’s where the issue is. We have limited taxation powers. This kind of tax is where you’d have to be looking quite carefully at what the power of the devolved parliament was. We would certainly want to go ahead and do things. If the UK Government, for example, chose to tax single-use coffee cups that would apply right across the UK.”

Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to defend her proposal to eradicate avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042 after Greenpeace said the country needed an “emergency plan” not a “25-year vision” and Friends of the Earth suggested it was “woolly”.

Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the Scottish Government’s plans to phase out throwaway plastics by 2030 is “a strong signal of intent to stop plastic waste at source.

“The new commitment to be part of the European phase out of single use plastics by 2030, Brexit or no Brexit, is the strongest possible statement that we are serious about getting rid of plastic,” he added. “After the disappointment of last week’s lacklustre UK environment plan Theresa May’s government should match this commitment for much more rapid action.”

The environment spokesman for the Scottish Greens. Mark Ruskell MSP, also urged the UK Government to match the EU pledge. He said: “EU environment policies helped the UK lose its image as the ‘dirty man of Europe’ in the 1990s and the pressure from the EU to recycle was a major driver. We need to keep the consensus with European countries that we share our seas and air with. Plastic pollution needs to be regulated out, signing up to the progressive EU agenda on plastics should be the minimum action that is taken by both UK and Scottish Governments.”

Iain Gulland, CEO of campaign group Zero Waste Scotland, also welcomed the Scottish Government announcement. He said: “Having the ambition and aligning ourselves to Europe is very important. Single use plastics like straws and coffee cup lids are ubiquitous in our society. I think we do need to tackle our dependency on our addiction to single-use plastics. One thing that [BBC television series] Blue Planet taught us is the time for action is now. We need to start making strides now. Last week the cabinet secretary made an announcement about banning the sale and use of plastic cotton buds. All the right signals are there, in terms of government policy. It’s about how we galvanise that commitment and make it work.”

The Sunday Herald asked the UK Government if it would also match the EU’s 2030 commitment and a spokesman pointed to English legislation to ban plastic microbeads found in some personal care products.

He added: “We don’t just want to ensure plastic packaging is recyclable, we want to eliminate avoidable plastic waste altogether. We are committed to do more to reduce single-use plastics so that we can be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.”

Industry body the British Plastics Federation was also approached for comment but did not respond.

Speaking after the UK Government announced it’s 25-year plan for the environment, BPF Director General Philip Law said: “The UK plastics industry shares the objective of minimising plastics waste through maximising recycling.”

READ MORE: 50 tons every day. 25,000 tons every year. Inside the recycling plant at Blochairn in Glasgow

SCOTLAND TO STOP SENDING PLASTIC WASTE TO CHINA AND BUILD PROCESSING PLANTS

Scotland’s councils are to stop exporting plastic waste to China and instead reprocess it at new plants which will be built in the coming year.

Iain Gulland, of Scottish Government-funded Zero Waste Scotland, revealed grants will be given to private companies to set up plastics recycling centres so that we no longer “rely on China”.

The Chinese Government announced last year it would stop imports of 24 kinds of solid waste by January 1, including polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) drinks bottles, other plastic bottles and containers in a campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage”.

Gulland said: “This is a good example of why it’s important we have a step change and think about what we do with our materials here in Scotland. There will be councils in Scotland where, probably, at this moment in time their material is going to the far east. There are a lot of intermediaries. A lot of the councils will be selling (plastics) to waste management companies who will be brokering that material into a number of markets, some of which will be China, some of which will be other parts of the world.”

Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “That’s going to come to an end.” She said a local government Charter for Household Recycling will ensure local authorities “harmonise” the way they collect recycling so that businesses will be encouraged to build plastic processing plants. Currently local authorities have varying recycling systems.

Cunningham said: “What you will get is a consistent, identifiable, straightforward stream of recycling that is available across Scotland in the same way so that companies can begin to think about how to maximise the opportunities out of that. We set that [charter] in motion in 2015 and 26 of our 32 councils have signed up to it. They are all in the process of harmonisation. We will then have a consistent stream of potentially useful recycling.”

Gulland said China’s decision to restrict plastic imports brings “fresh impetus” to talks with companies interested in opening processing plants in Scotland.

He said: “There is no indication that there’s any real issue with a particular council in Scotland not being able to sell its material because of the China effect but things will probably get tighter as we go through the year, in terms of the markets.

“There is limited plastics reprocessing in Scotland which makes the Chinese thing all the more prominent for us all because we do rely on China and other markets outside Scotland. It’s happened because there has been other markets and we’ve used them rather than investing in processing here in Scotland.

“We can’t rely on other markets. We need to create the right market conditions for investment in reprocessing facilities here in Scotland. There are people interested on the back of the bottle deposit return proposal. There is opportunity there because a successful scheme will generate fifteen or twenty thousand tonnes of plastic bottles all in one place. That’s going to be attractive to someone to come along and reprocess that.”

Zero Waste Scotland is responsible for the £18 million Circular Economy Investment Fund and talks with reprocessing companies interested in investing in Scotland are at an advanced stage, Gulland revealed.

He said: “We are currently working with a couple of companies who are interested in building facilities here in Scotland to look at plastic recycling. Some of that is quite innovative technology. We haven’t made them public because we haven’t made offers to these companies in terms of funding, but there are a number of those things coming through as we speak.

“We will see new plastics reprocessing facilities starting to be built in Scotland in 2018 and I think that’s a combination of investment being available to these companies and the policy environment we’re working in in Scotland, which is very positive and people seeing we are wanting to take action on plastics.”