The Scottish Government’s New Circular Economy Bill and What it Means for Reuse

3rd July 2024


Jayne Paramor, Anthesis’ EMEA Service Line Lead for Sustainable Packaging, shares insights into the Scottish Government’s new Circular Economy Bill, how organisations can transition to reusable packaging and why venue owners within and outside of Scotland should take particular note.

Amid a cost-of-living crisis, I can confidently say that, given the amount of coffee I drink on any given day, an extra 25p on the price of a cup of coffee would certainly be enough to make me bring my own cup. That is if I hadn’t already made the switch years ago. But the true cost of a single-use cup from a holistic perspective is far higher.

The Scottish Government’s new Circular Economy Bill passed on the 26th of June 2024, acknowledges this by establishing the power to levy charges on problematic single-use packaging formats.

The Scottish Government Circular Economy Bill

The new Scottish Circular Economy Bill aims to enable local authorities and ministers to increase reuse and recycling rates to support Scotland’s transition from a linear to a circular economy. Key provisions include setting local recycling targets, restricting the disposal of unsold consumer goods and strengthening enforcement against littering and fly-tipping. The Bill also places a charge on single-use items, including disposable cups, to encourage the move to reuse.

Given the explicit reference to cups in the new Bill, my daily coffees look squarely in the firing line.

Why the focus on disposable cups?

Single-use takeaway coffee cups, along with many of the other drink containers that we consume from on the go, add to the billions of pieces in a hard-to-recycle waste stream that are piling up globally on a daily basis. Waste, which at worst ends up in our environment as litter or goes straight to landfill, and at best is downgraded into low-value applications or feeds energy-to-waste facilities, generating emissions through incineration. 

The emphasis on cups seems clear when you consider the numerous settings that don’t need to rely on the strength of a consumer’s environmental conscience to deliver a significant impact on removing single-use packaging from the market.

  • Have you ever been to a football match and wondered why the beer was served in a plastic cup and you were given a new one with every subsequent round you bought? 
  • Have you ever been to the cinema and wondered why you couldn’t just return your soft drink cup and popcorn tub at the end of the movie, rather than having to throw it in the bin? 
  • Have you ever been to a music festival and been disgusted by the amount of food and drink packaging that ends up lying around on the ground after a few days of revelry?

Reusable food and drink packaging offers a new way of delivering food and beverage services for venue owners, theatres, cinemas, festival organisers, sports grounds, hospitals, government properties and myriad other large-scale public hospitality settings. In these situations, consumption typically occurs in closed and controllable environments, where packaging can be easily captured, cleaned and reused repeatedly.

disposable coffee cup

Building the business case for reuse

A growing body of evidence demonstrates not only the economic benefits of reusable packaging but also the potential environmental and social gains from moving away from our current linear packaging systems. Many businesses, however, are challenged when building the business case for change and addressing the short-term barriers to delivering the system change required to realise these benefits.

There are plenty of considerations:

  • What sort of material do you use?
  • How many times should reusable containers go around the circle? 
  • What is the breakeven point for a reusable cup vs the equivalent single-use alternative? 
  • How do you make sure that the containers are returned to the system?  Should you incentivise with a deposit or return model, and if so, what value will maximise the desired consumer behaviour? 
  • And how do you measure the benefits and efficiencies of the system to ensure optimisation?  

As our understanding of the externalities of packaging systems improves, we are better equipped to quantify the impacts that emerge from our current linear systems.  When evaluating the reusable alternative, we also need to factor in the corresponding reverse logistics impacts of the reuse system and weigh those against the current linear approach across a range of economic and environmental indicators. 

In closed application settings, these elements can be quantified relatively easily using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), demonstrating benefits particularly where the reverse logistics stages of the reuse system can be established in-house or on-site, as in large sports stadiums or entertainment venues, or when located nearby. Understanding these settings is vital in building the business case for change and identifying and implementing the most resource-efficient system possible.

reusable drinks cup

How can Anthesis help?

If you would like to explore reuse in your context, Anthesis is ideally placed to support your business. We can look across your existing systems to provide holistic, evidence-based comparisons with reusable system alternatives; we can assist with optimised system and packaging design and help demonstrate the long-term benefits of reuse to support the development of your business case for change. 

At Anthesis, we love reuse and refill. Get in touch to see how we can help your business, venue, festival, sports stadium or street food market to successfully transition to reusable packaging.

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