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Making Things Last - A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland

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8. Recovering value from biological resources

8.1 Our ambition

We want Scotland to be recognised as an international leader in the efficient use of biological resources. While our primary focus is on reducing waste, we want an increasing proportion of biological wastes to be used for production of high value materials and chemicals, maximising environmental and economic benefits and replacing non-renewable chemical feedstocks. When high value uses have been exhausted, we want to see increased production of renewable fuels, heat, and fertilizer products.

8.2 Context

Industrial biotechnology is already viewed at a global and EU level as a key technology with real growth potential. By 2025, estimates of the value of the global market range from £150 billion to £360 billion[18].

Scotland's vibrant food & drink sector is a major user of biological resources and also produces significant quantities of biological waste and by-products which could potentially generate significant value. To support a more circular economy we need to retain the highest value in these resources.

Separate collection of organic waste enables extraction and recirculation of nutrients, through anaerobic digestion, composting or biorefining. It also avoids harmful greenhouse gas emissions and can generate energy. Household and commercial food waste collections have been driven by the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012. To realise the full value from biological resources, we also need to develop new technologies; explore new markets and stimulate demand; and collaborate through supply chains and across sectors.

The Scottish Industrial Biotechnology Development Group leads the delivery of Scotland's National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology. The Plan aims to increase turnover from £190 million to £900 million by 2025 through industry growth and development; use of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC); and development of key skills.

It also works through the Biorefinery Roadmap for Scotland[19], which aims to develop cost-effective technologies to convert sustainable feedstocks into high value chemicals, biofuels and other renewable products. It recognises that biorefining should not compete with food & feed supply chains, so coproducts, residues and wastes are priority feedstocks.

The Renewable Heat Incentive supports the creation of biogas and its use in the gas grid. Where biogas is used for purposes other than as a transport fuel, our preference is that it be used in heat-only or high quality combined heat and power schemes[20].

Linked to the use of fertilizers and growing media, we have committed to supporting the phasing out of peat for horticultural use. Peatlands are important for biodiversity, water quality and reducing carbon emissions - and need to be well managed and protected. The National Peatland Plan[21] sets out Scotland's ambitions for protecting, managing and restoring our peatlands. Given that peat used for horticulture is sourced from many countries this commitment recognises Scotland's responsibility around what is a global challenge.

8.3 Our priorities

To improve awareness of circular economy opportunities, particularly higher value uses which also maximise environmental benefits, we will work with the IBioIC to help deliver the industry-led National Plan. This will include mapping bio-resources; investigating the potential for local biorefining hubs; and looking at how best to support investment in research, development and innovation to address technical barriers for the use of biological waste.

In parallel with our drive to reduce food waste, we want Scotland to become a leader in anaerobic digestion. We will work with the whole supply chain to investigate, pilot and implement improvements to improve the economics and environmental impact of the industry, including through enhancing the quality of digestate and compost; and utilising more of the heat produced by the facilities.

As part of our work on public procurement see Section 2 - Design, we will explore the scope to phase out the purchasing of non-renewable biological materials, such as peat, by the public sector. This will help stimulate demand for renewable fertilizer and soil conditioner products from anaerobic digestion and in vessel composting.

Horizon Proteins

There are important circular economy opportunities in the beer, whisky and fish sectors, and a report from Zero Waste Scotland valued the potential of these opportunities at £500 million to £803 million each year, through better utilisation of waste and byproducts.

Horizon Proteins is based at Heriot-Watt University and includes members from the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences and School of Life Sciences. Its vision is to transform under-used resources from food and drink industries, into higher value, sustainable, high-quality protein products. And it is not only about protein extraction. Horizon Proteins aims to address the issues associated with by-product inefficiencies within the food and drink industries by offering integrated solutions that add value, increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions associated with by-product processing.

The team works closely with industry to translate academic research into a commercial reality and states that its unique Scottish solution is applicable worldwide.