Delivering Scotland's circular economy - route map to 2025 and beyond: consultation

Through this consultation we set out our proposals for a Route Map to 2025, our strategic plan to deliver Scotland’s zero waste and circular economy ambitions. This consultation invites views on the proposed priorities and actions to reach our waste, recycling and emissions reduction targets.

Package 3: Improve recycling from households

Improve and optimise the performance of household recycling collection services to make the right choices the easier choices for households, ensure high standards across Scotland and maximise diversion of waste from disposal.

Current actions and commitments

  • Invest £70 million in recycling infrastructure across Scotland through the Recycling Improvement Fund.
  • Review the Scottish Household Recycling Charter and supporting Code of Practice.
  • Consult on requirements to separately collect garden waste by 2023, textiles and hazardous elements of household waste by 2025.
  • Consult on the current rural exemption and food separation requirements for food waste collections.
  • Introduce extended producer responsibility schemes for packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and batteries.
  • Deliver Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme on 16 August 2023.

Proposed new actions:

  • Facilitate a process to co-design high quality, high performing household recycling and reuse services with households, COSLA, local authorities and service operators.
  • Strengthen the monitoring and reporting framework for local authority waste services, and explore introducing a requirement on local authorities to report publicly on end destination of household recycling collected.
  • Take powers to place additional requirements on local authorities regarding household collection services and develop statutory guidance for household waste services.
  • Take powers to introduce statutory recycling local performance targets for household waste services.
  • Undertake a review of waste and recycling service charging.

Focus of this package

Recycling helps to conserve our natural resources, keep valuable materials flowing through our economy and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

Household waste makes up approximately 21% of Scotland's waste by weight, but 55% of the total waste carbon emissions. Households threw away just over 1 million tonnes of waste at the kerbside in 2019,[63] but up to 60% of what households put into their general waste bins can be recycled using existing recycling services.[64] Increasing the amount of materials recycled and increasing the proportion of these recycled in Scotland will deliver carbon reductions, reduce the environmental impacts associated with extracting new raw materials, and create a range of important economic opportunities to reprocess and reuse materials.

Measures in this package directly address our objective to increase household recycling, which will support delivery of our target to increase recycling of waste from all sources to 70% by 2025, and to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill to 5% by 2025. As household collection services in Scotland are the responsibility of local authorities, the measures covered in this package primarily focus on how to support local authorities to improve household recycling services, and help ensure that recycling is an easy, cheap, and convenient choice for households. Measures to increase recycling from commercial premises are covered in Package 4. Measures to promote recycling through product design and stewardship are covered in Package 1.

What we want to achieve

We want Scotland to become a world-leader in recycling. We want recycling services that are easy to use and accessible to all, no matter where you live, and to ensure that supports and encourages positive choices. By 2030, we want a high-performing recycling system that has modernised recycling services across Scotland, optimised the performance of collection services, and can recycle most waste types to maximise diversion of waste from disposal.

Analysis of high performing recycling systems around the world[65] suggests that no single policy or practice is sufficient on its own to produce household recycling rates of 65% and above. The highest performing systems combine stretching local targets, comprehensive collections, steps to disincentivise or reduce residual waste production and collections, and other incentives to recycle such as extended producer responsibility schemes.

Building on important action already underway, the measures set out in this package aim to:

  • Make recycling easier than disposal.

We want to make it easier to reuse and recycle, particularly for materials with a high environmental impact or where recycling rates remain low, and to support and incentivise positive behaviours.

  • Design and deliver services that maximise recycling performance and achieve more consistent local services.

High performing recycling services need to be accessible, efficient, economically sustainable and have the right incentives and support to share and scale best practice, while taking into account local context such as housing and geography.

  • Share best practice and support local authorities

to drive local improvements and achieve consistently high recycling rates across Scotland.

  • Embed decisions about recycling in the design and sale of products.

Products are often placed on the market that do not have technical or economic options for recycling. Measures such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes provide an incentive to embed decisions around recyclability into the design and sale of products, though there will always remain some responsibility on citizens and the waste management chain to recycle products effectively.

  • Increase transparency and generate more confidence in the recycling process.

Available evidence suggests greater transparency and confidence in the recycling process would help increase participation rates. For example, a UK wide survey in 2021[66] indicated that the lack of information on what happens to recycling is the top reason that negatively influences participation in recycling in Scotland. While international waste export legislation is a reserved matter, we believe it is important to consider further steps we can take within our competence to strengthen public confidence in where their recycling goes. This aligns with the Committee on Climate Change's recommendation to support action to ensure waste intended for recycling or recovery are treated as such.

Where we are now

Between 2004 and 2011, our recycling rate more than doubled in Scotland. In more recent years, although we now recycle more than we send to landfill, this rapid rate of progress has slowed - our recycling rate remained around 45% for several years, and fell back to 42% in 2020, likely due to the impacts of COVID-19. We know we have already missed our milestone target to recycle 60% of household waste by 2020. Nevertheless, recycling at the kerbside increased in 2020, and Scottish households recycled more plastic and glass wastes in 2020 than ever before.

Most households in Scotland have access to common recycling services,[67] and we have seen a marked increase in recycling rates since 2005. However, it is often 'easier' to throw things away than recycle or reuse them. Currently, the cost-incentives for consumers to recycle are weak and householders remain confused about what materials can be recycled. As a result, large quantities of recyclable materials are still sent for disposal when they could be recycled.[68] In addition, SEPA data shows that just under a fifth of everything put out for recycling by householders is non-recyclable.[69] Contamination makes managing recycling collections more costly and in extreme cases, can mean the whole load has to be taken for incineration or landfill.

What we have done

Scotland's landmark 2012 Waste (Scotland) Regulations place requirements on Local Authorities to provide a comprehensive recycling service to their householders, and established the minimum recycling service. They require that all waste holders (e.g. local authorities) take reasonable steps to apply the waste hierarchy to all waste that is collected, and ensure recycling services are designed and operated to promote 'high quality' recycling. They placed a ban on any metal, plastic, glass, paper and card collected separately for recycling from going to incineration or landfill from 2014. Our Duty of Care: A Code of Practice explains the duties, which apply to anyone who produces, keeps, imports or manages controlled waste in Scotland.

Through the Strategic Waste Fund, between 2008 and 2022 Scottish Government made available £1.083 billion additional funding to assist local authorities in the implementation of Area Waste Plans, including support for projects to drive local improvements in recycling.[70]

In partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the Scottish Government created the voluntary Scottish Charter for Household Recycling, which seeks to deliver more consistent recycling collections across Scotland, recognising the opportunities of a more circular economy and better resource management for the benefit of Scotland and its local communities. It also has an associated Code of Practice which provides guidance and best practice to support the design of recycling services and promote reuse.

In 2019, Scottish Government hosted Scotland's first recycling summit to bring together senior leaders across the public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations to identify opportunities to accelerate the pace of progress towards Scotland's ambitious recycling targets and ensure a more consistent, efficient, and easier to understand approach to recycling.

Household waste services in Scotland are delivered through Local Authorities - thirty-two unique organisations with different operating contexts, competing priorities and costs. The design of services necessarily has to balance cost considerations alongside other factors, and there is significant volatility and risk. Local recycling performance varies significantly in Scotland - from 18% to 58% in 2020.[71] The local authorities with lower recycling rates also tend to manage the largest national shares of household waste. While there are geographical and other local challenges at play, they can only explain some of this variation. We are therefore prioritising measures to share best practice and drive local improvements to achieve consistently high recycling rates across Scotland.

What we are already doing

[From 2021]

We launched the Recycling Improvement Fund in 2021, a five-year £70 million fund designed to support local authorities to improve recycling and reuse infrastructure. Over £20.3m has already been awarded to 13 local authorities to increase the quantity and quality of recycling, marking the beginning of one of the biggest investments in recycling in Scotland in a generation. The investments will fund a range of improvements, including more frequent recycling collections, the extension of food and garden waste collections, new capacity to recycle problematic materials like plastic films, and local service redesigns to align with Scotland's Household Recycling Charter. These first investments are projected to boost recycling by 22,101 tonnes and reduce CO2 emissions by 21,400 tonnes each year - the equivalent of taking over 11,400 cars off the road.

[From 2023]

The Scottish Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) will launch across the whole of Scotland on 16 August 2023. The scheme will introduce a 20p deposit on single-use PET, steel, aluminium and glass drinks containers, which will be refundable once the container is returned for recycling. It is anticipated that the scheme will collect 90% of containers placed on the market by 2024, cutting carbon emissions by 4 million tonnes CO2e over 25 years.

[From 2024]

We will introduce extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes for packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and batteries. Schemes are currently being reviewed at UK level, and we are committed to developing legislation to fully implement schemes in Scotland. We expect packaging EPR to begin from 2024, with implementation dates for other schemes still to be confirmed. All schemes aim to increase the recyclability of products, increase capture at end-of-life and provide greater incentives for domestic reprocessing. Packaging EPR is anticipated to increase recycling rates for packaging materials to 76% by 2030. It will require producers to cover the full net cost of managing their packaging when it becomes waste. Funding will go to local authorities to fund effective and efficient collection systems for household packaging waste. The cost burden will also encourage producers to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging they use.

All packaging types (except for plastic films and flexibles) will be required to be labelled as 'recycle' or 'do not recycle' by March 2026. Through the government response to the packaging EPR consultation,[72] we have confirmed that recyclable plastic film and flexible packaging is to be collected for recycling from both households and businesses in Scotland (and across the UK) by March 2027, and this will be taken forward through the measures outlined below.

[From 2022]

We are currently reviewing the Household Recycling Charter's supporting Code of Practice to ensure it continues to reflect best practice, to account for the introduction of DRS and packaging EPR requirements, and to encourage a more holistic approach to service design. This work was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have also committed to work with COSLA to evaluate the overall Charter; this work has also been delayed due to the pandemic but will provide an important platform as part of future measures described below.

[From 2023]

We have committed to consult on requirements to separately collect garden waste (by 2023), textiles and hazardous elements of household waste (by 2025), as set out in our Climate Change Plan update (2020), and in line with EU Commission's Circular Economy Package.

[From 2022]

We are improving our data and evidence on household recycling performance through waste compositional analysis, to continually influence service design and household recycling services.

[From 2022]

As set out in our Food Waste Reduction Action Plan (2019), we also intend to break down barriers to food recycling by consulting on the current rural exemption and food separation requirements for food waste collections in 2022.

What we are proposing to do


1. We will facilitate a process to co-design high quality, high performing household recycling and reuse services by the end of 2023, working with service operators and users.

We propose to launch a co-design process to understand opportunities for better service design, putting people at the heart of how services are designed and delivered. We will build on Scotland's Household Recycling Charter, and work with COSLA, local authorities, waste service operators, residents, and other key stakeholders. The co-design approach will ensure modern, efficient, affordable service standards for operators and more consistent service provision. We will particularly focus on opportunities to further improve food waste recycling services and participation rates and reduce contamination of recycling that is collected.

We know there are significant opportunities to learn from best practice, both from within Scotland and elsewhere. We will involve people in service design to better understand the likely responses to change, and help ensure services are accessible and easy to use. We will draw upon the wealth of experience and expertise within Scottish local authorities, and will build on the platform created by the Scottish Household Recycling Charter and the findings of our ongoing review of the Code of Practice. We will also account for the impact of upcoming measures, such as DRS and packaging EPR, on the legal requirements, funding, and scope of materials for recycling services.

Food waste recycling presents the largest opportunity to improve household recycling performance and quality in Scotland[73] and is critical if we are to further reduce the carbon impact of waste. 80% of households in Scotland can recycle food waste and have been encouraged to do so by local authorities and during national media campaigns. Despite this effort, participation in food waste recycling remains low (27% in 201535), and there are quality issues due to contamination.

If this measure is taken forward, the co-design process will involve:

  • Detailed case study research to map the features of high-performing systems across the world to different Scottish contexts. This will include, for example, understanding what works best for dense urban areas, rural areas, and islands communities.
  • Determining a range of service solutions and appropriate communications standards in collaboration with both service providers and households, in the context of existing data and further evidence requirements.
  • Consideration of the available markets and reprocessing capacity for collected materials.
  • Assessment of the likely improvements in service performance for different contexts.
  • Investigating the potential for further collaboration and partnerships between multiple authorities on service provision to achieve economies of scale.


2. We will strengthen the monitoring and reporting framework for local authority waste services by 2025, and explore introducing a requirement on local authorities to report publicly on the end destination of household recycling collected.[†]

We propose to review where additional or alternative reporting may be required to help drive and assure further service improvements and public awareness and confidence in local services, taking into account the comprehensive national and local reporting arrangements already in place or planned, for example through WasteDataFlow[74] and the UK-wide digital waste tracking system.

Based on review findings in partnership with local government, we will consider the development of a refreshed data standard, which sets out an updated set of metrics on local authority waste service provision and performance across all 32 local authorities. This aims to ensure that reporting continues to be robust, can inform service improvements and information is publicly available.

If this measure is taken forward, we will look to work with partners and consider using existing systems where appropriate to avoid unnecessary duplication, administration and cost. We will account for measures already underway, including the development of a UK-wide digital waste tracking system. We will also ensure that data is readily accessible across public systems to increase consistency and allow cross-working.

As part of this wider work, to increase transparency and strengthen public confidence in local recycling services and where their recycling goes, we also propose to explore the introduction of a statutory duty, placed upon collecting local authorities[†] , to report on the final end destinations of recycling collected. This duty could also be placed on other actors in the supply chain, to support councils in properly reporting end destination details – including collectors, sorters, brokers/exporters and final reprocessors. We will also consider options to boost transparency and public accessibility to information on recycling end destinations, for example through online tools such as the Welsh Government's 'My Recycling Wales' site.[75]


3. We will take powers to place additional requirements on local authorities regarding household collection services and develop statutory guidance for household waste services.[†]

We propose to take powers to enable Scottish Ministers to place additional requirements on local authorities regarding household collection services and to develop statutory guidance for provision of high-performance household waste services in different contexts, using the findings and outputs from the co-design process (measure 1) and monitoring framework (measure 2).

The Scottish Household Recycling Charter and Code of Practice was developed in 2015 in partnership between COSLA and Scottish Government. It has been a valuable platform to drive consistency in the quality and quantity of recycling across Scotland. The current Charter provides voluntary technical guidance, which focuses heavily on kerbside recycling and residual waste service provision. 31 of the 32 local authorities have signed up to the voluntary Charter and its supporting Code of Practice. However, only around one-third (10) of local authorities have aligned their services to reflect Code of Practice standards.

We believe there is a need for statutory guidance to ensure that services are high performing in different local contexts, maximising participation, material capture, and quality given the demographics, housing stock, and geography. If this measure is taken forward, we will build on the existing Recycling Charter and Code of Practice, including the findings from our ongoing Code of Practice review. We would also consider our approach to recycling a range of other materials not currently covered by the majority of kerbside collection services in Scotland.


4. We will take powers to introduce statutory recycling local performance targets for household waste services, with targets to be met from 2030.[†]

We propose to legislate and implement statutory local recycling and reuse targets for household waste services, to complement improved understanding of high-performing schemes, monitoring framework and statutory guidance on service implementation. Targets will be informed by research on metrics that measure quality and quantity of material collected, and ongoing engagement with key stakeholders on design.

Statutory targets have been identified as a feature of high-performing schemes in Wales and Europe (see Box 3[76]), particularly where they are accompanied by other supporting measures. We are proposing powers through the Circular Economy Bill to enable Scottish Ministers to set recycling (recycling, preparation for re-use and composting) targets for local authorities; and to set financial incentives to meet these targets, or penalties should these targets not be met.

We recognise that targets must be achievable, and that service providers must have the tools available to meet the required standard. If this measure is taken forward, we will give careful consideration to how the measure could be implemented in Scotland, taking into account local authorities' current performance and any constraints on what they could reasonably be expected to achieve. For example, given the large variation on local recycling performance, we would look to ensure adequate time, resources and appropriate targets to support local authorities to close the performance gap, along the pathway to a 70% recycling rate.

Box 3: Local Authority recycling targets in Wales

Research suggests one of the most promising drivers of increased recycling quantity and quality is the introduction of local authority recycling targets. This approach has been adopted by the Welsh Government and has contributed to an increase in household recycling rates from 5.2% in 1998-99 to the globally leading figure of 65% in 2020. A range of policies have been put in place to drive up performance, including discretionary financial penalties for local authorities that do not meet performance requirements, complemented by investment in recycling services, expanded food waste and other recycling collections, reduced frequency of general rubbish collections, improved facilities at waste recycling centres, and communications.


5. We will undertake a review of waste and recycling service charging by 2024, and are seeking views on what further powers, if any, should be considered to support households to reduce waste and recycle more, by 2028.[†]

We propose to conduct a review of waste and recycling service charging by 2024 to ensure that we have the right incentives to reduce waste and maximise use of recycling and reuse services.

At the moment households in Scotland can be charged for collection of certain waste streams, such as garden waste or uplift of larger items. As a result householders are effectively being charged for recycling services, which may be acting as a disincentive to recycling.

This review will investigate whether the current position incentivises the behaviour that we want in line with the waste hierarchy, or delivers the most value for local authorities, including the highest quality recyclate.

We will account for current and future funding availability for household services, including the potential revenue stream from the reformed packaging EPR scheme. We will draw on evidence from global high-performing recycling systems, the outputs of co-design (measure 1), and build on our commitment to consult on requirements to separately collect garden waste (by 2023), textiles and hazardous elements of household waste (by 2025).

Through the Circular Economy Bill consultation, we are seeking views on whether there are further powers for Scottish Ministers, and if appropriate, local authorities, that should be considered to incentivise positive household behaviours to support waste reduction and maximise recycling.

Analysis of high performing recycling systems around the world[77] suggests that the highest performing systems combine stretching local targets, comprehensive collections, steps to disincentivise or reduce residual waste production and collection, and other incentives such as extended producer responsibility schemes. Evidence suggests householders should be incentivised to minimise residual waste to support recycling rate improvements. In other countries this has been achieved in multiple ways, for example through restricting effective weekly residual waste capacity (via smaller bins and/or less frequent collections), enforced volume limits (as in Wales), or other measures.

Figure 6: Actions to improve recycling from households
This shows the proposed timeline of existing and new proposed actions by the Scottish Government to improve recycling from households, from 2022 to 2030. These measures are set out in the text above.

Consultation questions

Question 5. To what extent do you agree with the measures proposed in this package to improve recycling from households? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree / Not answered]

Question 6. Are there any further measures that you would like to see included in the Route Map to improve recycling from households and incentivise positive behaviours?



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