UK policy round-up - DRS delay, single-use plastic ban and carrier bag levy

There has been quite a bit of activity in the world of policy recently, with some noteworthy developments.

Scottish Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)

Lorna Slater, the Scottish minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity gave a ministerial statement on 17 November, addressing the Scottish parliament on plans toward a circular economy. Before the address, it was thought the minister would provide a new launch date for the Scottish DRS, but in fact this was promised “in due course”.

It is almost certain at this point that the July 2022 start date will be pushed back, potentially to align with the rest of the UK 2024. The minister stated that the impacts of Brexit, COVID-19 on industry and the UK Government’s resistance to resolve the removal of VAT from the deposit amount as the key factors affecting progress.

This said, the minister and Circularity Scotland – the company established to manage the scheme – are committed to implementing the DRS “as soon as possible”.

Scotland bans single-use plastic items

Scotland have announced new regulations on single-use plastics. The Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021, to be implemented in June 2022, takes a lead from Article 5 of the EU Single-use Plastics Directive.

Essentially, from next year it will be an offence to manufacture and supply items such as polystyrene cups, food containers, and single-use plastics plates in Scotland.

The issue here, and the reason stakeholders have been critical of these new regulations, is the Internal Market Act 2020. The Act, from which the Scottish parliament withheld consent, stipulates the ‘mutual recognition principle’. This principle means any goods produced in or imported into one part of the UK, must also be freely traded in any other part - regardless of any contravening requirements.

Lorna Slater has said “the ban is at risk from the UK Internal Market Act” and that she will be “writing to the UK government to ask that they take the necessary steps to ensure the integrity of this ban”.

Northern Ireland increases carrier bag levy

After consultation, the Northern Irish environment agency DAERA announced in September that they intend to increase the levy on carrier bags “to maximise environmental impact and mitigate against the existing harmful throw away culture for bags”.

Legislation on the levy is devolved, so whereas in England the charge sits at 10p, in Northern Ireland it will now increase to 25p for any bags priced under £5. The Northern Irish carrier bag charge also does not discriminate by material, unlike the other devolved nations.

The response to the consultation, released by DAERA, states the charge increase will “re-educate and change customer behaviour and further reduce the harmful environmental impact cause by the number of heavy duty bags currently flooding the market”.

Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) formally legalised

Lastly, the Office for Environmental Protection became legally established on the 17 November, and will act as a 'watchdog' to ensure environmental targets are hit and legislation is enforced. DEFRA has the ability to inform the OEP on how policy should be enforced, which lobbyists say is concerning and limits the organisations independence and ability to hold government accountable.

Find out more about the OEP here.

Louisa Goodfellow

Policy Manager

As Policy advisor Louisa provides key support to our team, including preparing reports on environmental policy issues and maintaining awareness of new developments. As such she will often be found coordinating responses to policy consultations, advocating policy positions and providing internal guidance to current legislation.

Written by Louisa Goodfellow Published 19/11/2021 Topics Sustainability
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