Single-use plastic ban in Scotland exempt from forthcoming UK law

New rules banning single-use plastics come into force in Scotland on June 1.

Single-use plastic ban in Scotland exempt from forthcoming UK Internal Market Act iStock

Scotland’s ban on single-use plastic products will be exempt from the UK Internal Market Act, the Scottish Government has announced.

It means the ban on many of the most damaging single-use plastic products, which came into force on June 1, will be fully effective.

The Scottish Government said the ban had been under threat from the UK Internal Market Act, adding that none of the UK’s devolved administrations gave their consent to the legislation.

Scotland became the first UK nation to implement a ban on single-use plastics following a 12-week public consultation.

But the UK Internal Market Act, which comes into effect on August 12, would have rendered the ban ineffective as businesses in Scotland would have been able to supply banned items that originated from the rest of the UK.

Here is a reminder of the rules and regulations that now apply to single-use plastics in Scotland:

What single-use plastics are banned?

It will be unlawful to make and commercially supply the following items:

  • Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks and other similar utensils)
  • Plates
  • Beverage stirrers
  • Food containers made of expanded polystyrene
  • Cups made of expanded polystyrene
Single-Use plastic items that are banned under new legislation.Zero Waste Scotland

It is also unlawful to supply commercially the following items, although exemptions allow them in certain settings and circumstances:

  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic balloon sticks

All the restrictions apply to both online and in-store sales, whether they are free or paid-for.

Enforcement will be the responsibility of local authorities. Failure to comply with the regulations carries a maximum fine of £5,000.

Why are plastic straws exempt in certain settings?

An exemption was made to ensure those who need them to eat or drink independently, or for medical purposes, can get access.

They will still be available to purchase at in-store or online pharmacies and given on request in hospitality venues – but won’t be routinely available in supermarkets or other shops.


Plastic straws can also still be accessed in hospitals, care homes, schools, early learning/childcare premises and prisons.

The regulations also provide an exemption for single-use plastic balloon sticks used for industrial or professional uses.

What should be used instead?

The Scottish Government says it wants reusable alternatives prioritised over substituting plastic for other materials.

For example, choosing metal reusable cutlery over single-use cutlery made of non-plastic materials. 

The government believes problems caused by single-use items cannot be solved by replacing them with alternative single-use items made with different materials.

Zero Waste Scotland says this is “an opportunity to think differently and only use single-use items where absolutely required, saving money and helping to fight climate change”.

Is the rest of the UK doing this?

Scotland is the first part of the UK to introduce regulations on such a comprehensive list of items.

England has recently introduced restrictions on some items such as single-use plastic straws, beverage stirrers and cotton buds.

Wales launched a public consultation in August 2020, on restrictions for the items listed in the Single-Use Plastics Directive.


Northern Ireland must, as part of the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement Northern Ireland Protocol, implement certain requirements set out in the Single-Use Plastics Directive.

Scotland became the first part of the UK to ban the sale of plastic cotton buds in 2019. A ban on the sale and manufacture of plastic microbeads was introduced the previous year, in June 2018.

Furthermore, the minimum cost of plastic carrier bags in Scotland rose to 10p last April, seven years after the 5p charge was introduced.

Can I still get a takeaway coffee cup?

Getty Images

Takeaway coffee cups are not affected by the new rules that come into effect in June.

But the Scottish Government is establishing an advisory group to look at plans to introduce a mandatory charge, as part of a crackdown on tackling waste across the country.

The charge would apply to coffee cups and other single-use disposable beverage containers.

It is hoped that by charging for single-use cups, more people will be encouraged to start using reusable alternatives, such as flasks.Advertisement

In Scotland, it is estimated that around 40,000 disposable cups are dropped throughout the country each year.

Due to their waterproof plastic lining, the cups can be difficult to recycle, meaning that most of them are either incinerated or sent to landfill.

From 2024, larger coffee shops, fast food chains and others who sell drinks in disposable papers cups will have to provide a dedicated bin to collect and recycle them.

What is the Scottish Government’s view?

Circular economy minister Lorna Slater said: “Banning many of the most problematic single-use plastic items in Scotland is an important step in the fight against waste. By choosing reusable alternatives, we can all help decrease litter and cut emissions.

Scottish Greens

“Protecting Scotland’s environment is a devolved matter and decisions like this should be ours to make. It is wholly unacceptable that this was put at risk by the UK Internal Market Act, which the UK Government imposed without our consent.  

“While it is frustrating that the UK Government did not act in time, today’s action will provide certainty to businesses and consumers. I look forward to seeing businesses all across Scotland make the switch to sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics.”

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