Circular Economy Hotspot 2018: First Minister's speech

FM Nicola Sturgeon addresses participants of the Circular Economy Hotspot international event in Glasgow.

Thank you to all of you for coming along here today. It’s an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to be with you this morning.

I understand that around 20 countries from across the world are represented here today. So let me begin by offering all of you the warmest welcome – I mean that in spirit rather than in terms of the weather of course – but you are most welcome here in Scotland, here in our biggest city of Glasgow. I hope that you have a wonderful time.

I also want to thank Zero Waste Scotland for all the work it does and has done in bidding for, and organising, this conference.

It is a real honour for Scotland to host a global gathering of this kind – on an issue which is not just important to us in Scotland but an issue that is of increasing international significance.

The circular economy has become an increasing priority for countries right across the world and rightly so.

That’s for both environmental but also economic reasons.

We know that we need to keep materials in use for as long as possible, in order to reduce the environmental impact of our consumption.

But we also know that if we succeed in doing that, we can create enormous benefits – a cleaner environment, reduced costs for manufacturers and consumers, and new technologies that will create new jobs.

In fact, you can get some sense of the scale of the economic opportunity from the reports that Zero Waste Scotland has published just today.

They look in some detail at the Scottish regions of Tayside, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

These reports highlight – for example – the importance of reusing and remanufacturing decommissioned equipment from our offshore oil and gas industry.

They also suggest there will be opportunities to use by-products from Tayside’s farming and soft fruit sector.

And overall, the reports estimate that - for Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Tayside - developing a circular economy could generate economic benefits of approximately £1 billion.

And since those three areas I mentioned – Tayside, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire - account for about 1/6 of Scotland’s total population, it seems clear that the total economic prize – for Scotland as a whole – will be much much greater than that.

Moving to a circular economy –and this I think is true of many issues relating to the environment and climate change – is, first and foremost, an overwhelming moral imperative. However as these reports very powerfully demonstrate it is also a massive economic opportunity.

And it also, in my view, speaks to Scotland’s history, to our sense of our identity.

This conference centre that we are gathering in this morning is built on the site of the old Queens Dock – it’s a reminder of the fact that for generations, Clydeside was one of the industrial centres of the world. At the start of the last century, 1/5 of the world’s shipping was built on the banks of the Clyde.

In fact in many ways Scotland – through inventions like James Watt’s steam engine - led the world into the industrial age. Our opportunity now, indeed I would argue our obligation, is to play our part in leading the world into the low carbon age.

Our circular economy strategy – which we published two years ago – is crucial to achieving that ambition.

It focuses on four areas where we think that promoting a circular approach will have a particularly big impact - food and drink, energy, construction and remanufacturing.

Now I won’t go through all of our actions this morning – although I hope that over the course of this conference, and during your visits tomorrow, you will get a sense of the scale and range of the work that we are doing here in Scotland.

But I want to briefly highlight some of the ways in which we are working with businesses to promote innovation and reduce waste.

In 2015 we created the Scottish Institute for Remanufacture. It’s based at Strathclyde University, which situated just a couple of miles from here and that is one of only 6 centres of its kind anywhere in the world.

We want to build on Scotland’s expertise in advanced manufacturing, and ensure that we play a leading role in remanufacturing. In fact we believe that remanufacturing could create more than 5,000 new jobs in Scotland by 2020.

We have also created an £18 million Circular Economy Investment Fund. That helps small and medium sized enterprises adopt new approaches and develop new technologies.

In fact we have announced three new awards from that fund just today.

Total Homes will ensure that appliances used in house clearances are reused. Revive Eco will use coffee grounds to create biofuels, fertiliser and bio-oils which can be used in cosmetics.

And Angus 3D will develop 3D printing – by making it easier for spare parts to be manufactured, they will help machinery to last longer.

These companies, these three excellent innovative companies, join a number of other businesses and initiatives which have already benefited from the Circular Economy fund.

A very good example is Project Beacon - an advanced plastics reprocessing facility in Perthshire. By locating different kinds of recycling technology in the same place, we hope it will in time be able to recycle virtually all different kinds of plastic household waste.

That’s an initiative which can bring and create major benefits – not just for Scotland, but for other countries around the world.

Project Beacon is one of a number of ways in which we are working with businesses to tackle plastic pollution.

Last weekend, the Scottish Government signed up to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Global Commitment. By doing so, we resolved to play our part in eradicating plastic waste and pollution.

In May, we appointed an expert panel, led by Dame Sue Bruce, to provide recommendations on how to tackle the problem. Their initial recommendations are due to be made to us soon.

And last year, we became the first part of the UK to confirm that we would establish a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, including plastic cups and bottles.

Our consultation on this scheme closed in September, and attracted more than 3,000 responses which gives an indication of the interest in schemes like this.

I am sure that we received replies indeed from quite a few of the people and organisations in this room just now and I am grateful to everyone who has taken the trouble to respond.

We are very clear in our basic aim – to ensure that as much packaging as possible is reused rather than being placed in landfill.

However designing the best possible deposit scheme is not straightforward – it has been important for us to hear the perspectives of businesses, third sector organisations and individuals here at home but also further afield, particularly those in countries that already have such schemes in operation.

We intend to publish our detailed proposals next year, and we will continue to work collaboratively as we plan and implement the return scheme. In particular, in addition to working with businesses and other organisations, we will continue to work closely with the UK Government as it’s important that schemes across the UK work well together.

The deposit scheme is a vital part of our plans to reduce and eliminate plastic waste. So as I’m sure as you will appreciate, we are working hard to get the details right.

I mentioned earlier on that I want Scotland to be a pioneer of the circular economy, just as we were a pioneer of the industrial revolution. If we achieve that aim, and we are determined that we will do so, then we increase our prosperity, and improve the environment.

However to do that, we know that Government can and mustn’t act alone. We need to work in partnership – partnership with the wider public sector, with organisations such as Zero Waste Scotland, and with businesses across the country.

And we need also work with governments and other organisations in all different parts of the world.

The circular economy is an area where Scotland, in my view, has much to contribute – I think we have demonstrated that already that we have much expertise and many ideas to contribute. But we also know, and I see this in many of the countries that I visit, we have also got a lot to learn from others.

There’s no doubt at all that gatherings like this are bringing together so much expertise from right around the world, it’s an essential part of that international exchange of ideas. That’s one of the many reasons I’m so delighted and the Scottish Government is so delighted that this event is taking place here in Glasgow.

I very much hope and indeed I very much expect that the discussions which take place here will make a really positive difference to the environment and to the economies of countries right across the world. This is one of the biggest issues of our generation, one of the biggest we are facing up to and grappling with. I have no doubt that the discussions that you have here will bring much new thinking and much fresh perspective to this global challenge.

So let me end by wishing you all the best for a very successful conference and wishing you all the best for your stay in sunny Glasgow.


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