By Katherine Price, Sustainability Editor: What plastic waste reduction efforts across the UK mean for hospitality.
Governments across the UK are looking to crack down on plastic waste through new legislation and schemes, which will mean big changes for hospitality businesses in the coming years.
What’s been introduced and what’s coming
Since 2020, single-use plastic straws and stirrers have been banned in England, and since last year, it has been an offence for operators in Scotland to provide plastic cutlery, plates and stirrers.
In a trial that took place before the ban, businesses in Edinburgh’s Portobello and Joppa suburbs, including Civerinos, the Cake and Candy Tearoom, Malvarosa, and ShrimpWreck, adopted measures to reduce their plastic waste. This included switching sauce sachets for refillable bottles, charging for single-use cups and offering a reusable alternative, offering reusable containers for a deposit, and making straws and stirrers available on request only. The trial saw a 96% drop in takeaway cup use, a 92% decrease in straw usage, and takeaway container use fell by 56%.
Single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers will also be banned in England from October – although this will not apply to plates, trays, and bowls used for pre-packaged food.
Further legislation set to come in this autumn will see single-use plastic cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers and some polystyrene fast-food containers, cups and lids banned in Wales. The Northern Ireland Executive also committed to creating a plan to eliminate plastic pollution in its 2020 New Decade, New Approach Deal. A Deposit Return Scheme was due to be introduced across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2024, but this has been delayed to 2025.
Operators anticipating such legislation include Bristol Rovers FC, which has switched out its plastic pint cups for a paper alternative, which it estimates will save over a tonne of plastic waste from being sent to landfill every season. Three-Michelin-starred restaurant Sketch in London’s Mayfair, meanwhile, has launched a water bottle reuse scheme.
Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme
The current focus is on Scotland, which is set to be the first UK country to launch a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) on 16 August, which will be overseen by Circularity Scotland. All hospitality venues selling packaged drinks will be required to take part – although there are some exceptions. The Scottish government has said it hopes the scheme will lead to at least 90% of recyclable drinks containers being recycled instead of becoming waste by 2024.
According to Zero Waste Scotland, only half of eligible containers are recycled and the scheme is expected to lower emissions by just over 160,000 tonnes of CO2eq each year. The organisation said that most European countries with Deposit Return Schemes achieve return rates above 90%.
Hospitality venues selling drinks in plastic or glass bottles or metal cans between 50ml and three litres for takeaway will see consumers pay a 20p deposit. The scheme will not include HDPE plastic containers or lined cardboard containers like Tetrapak. Glass is set to be excluded from the anticipated DRS in England and Northern Ireland but included in Scotland and Wales.
Businesses will have to offer a return point or reverse vending machine for customers to return their containers and collect their deposit, even if it was not originally bought on their premises. Venues selling drinks for on-site consumption will have to pay the 20p deposit to their supplier and store empty containers for collection.
Sites offering drinks for both on- and off-site consumption will be required to ensure any drinks sold without a deposit applied are not taken from the premises by customers and that the deposit is applied to drinks sold for consumption off-site. They will also need to make it clear to the customer which drinks the deposit applies to.
‘Chaotic’ and ‘not fit for purpose’
Trade bodies have been critical of the DRS, with UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson previously saying that, “decision-making has not been timely or understanding of business need”. The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has also expressed concerns that the scheme is “not fit for purpose”, should be implemented incrementally, and that issues remain unresolved such as collection times, storage and security, exemptions and ‘hybrid’ venues.
“We don’t want to scrap the scheme – we want it paused so that our concerns and those of other trade groups representing all aspects of the drinks industry and the supply chain can be carefully considered and addressed ahead of its implementation,” SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson has said.
“The DRS as it stands needs to be rethought and adjusted to ensure that smaller businesses are not bogged down by bureaucracy and forced to deal with unnecessary layers of administration.”
Mike Hanson, director of sustainable business for WSH, agrees, describing the scheme as “chaotic” with not enough information or detail available for businesses with just five months to go.
“It just doesn’t seem that it’s been very well thought-through. People have no idea what’s going on. Everyone’s scrabbling around for information,” he explains.
“The administrative burden back of house is just phenomenal and it feels like that’s been underestimated. From an accounting perspective, although no-one should be out of pocket because we’re passing the money through, to process that, the administrative changes need to take account of: when you’re buying, how do you account for a deposit that a customer has, and then put that back in the system? And there is still no clarification as to how HMRC is going to deal with the VAT.”
He says the biggest issues businesses face are financial, such as initial outlay for more expensive reusables, but particularly logistics, with businesses needing space to store and capacity to clean items for reuse.
“The Deposit Return Scheme should take into the whole system, by which I mean everything including kerbside recycling,” he adds.
“Ultimately there needs to be a DRS, but there needs to be a DRS across the UK, all joined up, everybody doing the same thing, including the same materials and having the same structures.”
DRS ‘on course’ for August
Despite the issues raised by trade bodies and operators, Circularity Scotland said earlier this month that the scheme was still “on course” for launch in August, and published its blueprint for return point operators and its closed loop blueprint.
A spokesperson said: “Circularity Scotland is committed to delivering the most efficient and easiest possible system for all businesses, including those from the hospitality sector.
“We recently published our blueprint for hospitality providers who sell drinks for consumption off premises, known as an open loop system, and for businesses such as pubs where drinks are sold for consumption on the premises, known as a closed loop system. These detail everything businesses need to know about when it comes to fulfilling their obligations under the scheme, from storage and collections to return handling fees and exemptions.
“Hospitality business concerned about any aspect of the scheme should get in touch with Circularity Scotland so we can discuss their particular circumstances and support them. Our support team are available to speak to individual hospitality businesses to understand their specific needs and provide them with the right information.
“As the scheme beds in we will continue to review processes to ensure we operate as leanly as possible and minimise the impact of DRS on our stakeholders.”