Delivering Scotland's circular economy - proposed Circular Economy Bill: consultation

This consultation seeks views on our proposals for legislation to develop Scotland’s circular economy. The consultation sets out a number of areas in which we are seeking views on whether to take powers within a new Circular Economy Bill.


What is a circular economy?

Scotland's economy is mainly one in which we "take, make and dispose". We take resources from the ground, air and water; we make them into products and structures; then we dispose of them. This is a linear economy.

In a circular economy, resources are kept in use for as long as possible, the maximum value is extracted from them whilst in use and then products and materials are recovered and regenerated at the end of each product's viable life cycle.

One simple way to express the concept of a circular economy is that it is designed to reduce the demand for raw materials in products; to encourage reuse, repair and manufacture by designing and selling products and materials to last as long as possible; and to recycle waste and energy to maximise the value of any waste that is generated. The policy proposals for the Circular Economy Bill are set out in the following chapters under themes of 'Strategic Interventions; Reduce and Reuse; Recycle; and Littering and Improving Enforcement'.

Figure 1: a circular economy approach to production and consumption ( source: Zero Waste Scotland)
Figure 1 has been compiled by Zero Waste Scotland to depict a circular economy approach to production and consumption. It highlights the interaction between consumption reduction, reuse and recycling of material and energy as the foundation of a circular economy.

Another way to describe this is the 'waste hierarchy', which describes the order of preferences for action to reduce and manage waste (figure 2). This sets out the optimal use for materials, starting with prevention (an alternative term for 'reducing' the use of materials), moving to reuse and then recycling, including energy and material recovery. It is only when we have exhausted all of the other alternatives that disposal through landfill should be used. A circular economy should always endeavour to keep materials in use as high up the waste hierarchy and for as long as possible.

Figure 2: the waste hierarchy ( source: Scottish Government)
Figure 2 illustrates the steps within the waste hierarchy. The waste hierarchy ranks waste management options according to the best environmental outcome taking into consideration the lifecycle of the material. The waste hierarchy gives top priority to preventing waste. When waste is created, it gives priority to preparing it for reuse, then recycling, then other recovery, and last of all disposal

Why a circular economy?

Estimates suggest around four fifths of Scotland's carbon footprint comes from the products and services we manufacture, use and throw away. Material consumption and waste are the primary drivers of nearly every environmental problem we currently face, from water scarcity to habitat and species loss[1].

The average Scot consumes 18.4 tonnes of materials every year – that's the equivalent of 50kg per week on average[2].

That isn't sustainable - as set out in our Environment Strategy[3], if everyone lived as we do in Scotland we would need three planets to sustain ourselves.

In short, the more materials we extract and use, the more damage we do to the climate and to nature.

A circular economy gives us an alternative economic model that can benefit everyone within the limits of our planet. A circular economy:

  • cuts waste, carbon emissions and pressures on the natural environment.
  • opens up new market opportunities, improves productivity, increases self-sufficiency and resilience by reducing reliance on international supply chains and global shocks.
  • strengthens communities by providing local employment opportunities and lower cost options to access the goods we need.

Circular economy objectives

Transitioning from a linear to a circular economy will be a challenging task and to do so we need to change how we Produce, Consume and Manage Scotland's resources. The Climate Change Plan Update[4] set out the vision that by 2045 Scotland's cultural, social and business norms will be driven by a focus on:

  • Responsible Production, where a circular economy is embraced by the businesses and organisations that supply products, ensuring the maximum life and value from the natural resources used to make them.
  • Responsible Consumption, where people and businesses demand products and services in ways which respect the limits of our natural resources. Unnecessary waste, in particular food waste, will be unacceptable in Scotland.
  • Maximising Value from Waste and Energy, where the environmental and economic value of wasted resources and energy is harnessed efficiently.

Our work directly links to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Creating sustainable growth is a key part of the Scottish Government's Purpose and the circular economy particularly contributes to the Environment and Economy outcomes under the National Performance Framework. Progress is measured through the carbon footprint and waste generated indicators.

Route Map

Alongside this consultation on proposals for legislation, we are also consulting on a Route Map[5] to achieve our waste and recycling targets.

Work to develop the Route Map has highlighted that we have made good long-term progress in all areas but that there is a significant challenge to meet these different targets. The Route Map identifies a range of potential interventions that could be taken forward and sets a clear direction for the next 5-10 years. This Bill consultation includes a number of legislative provisions that would help deliver some of the interventions explored in the Route Map.

Previous Circular Economy Bill Consultation

While we have already made important progress against the ambitions set out in 2016 circular economy strategy 'Making Things Last'[6], we recognise that there is more to do. In 2019, we consulted on proposals for legislation, and published the analysis of responses in 2020[7]. Because of the pressures on Parliamentary time as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bill was not introduced during the last session of Parliament.

The Programme for Government 2021-22[8] included a commitment to bring forward a Circular Economy Bill, later in this parliamentary session, to help facilitate the development of an economy which reduces demand for raw materials, designs products to last as long as possible and encourages reuse, repair and recycling.

This consultation builds on measures included in the previous consultation and introduces a range of new proposals.

Current and future activity

Circular economy and waste policy is a complex landscape, with Scottish, UK, European and global dimensions to consider. The system for production of our products and materials involves supply chains that span the globe.

We also need to recognise the interaction between reserved and devolved powers. For example, VAT and elements of product standards, product labelling and consumer protection are reserved and require joint approaches with UK administrations to take forward action where appropriate. Aligning with developing EU thinking is also vital given the impact of international supply chains.

Given this complexity, it is important to consider both legislative and non-legislative measures that will help us achieve our goals. Our intention is to use the Circular Economy Bill to bring forward measures that require primary legislation, recognising that these are complemented by the other legislative and non-legislative activities.

An overview of ongoing and proposed activity is set out in Figure 3:

Figure 3: Existing and proposed new measures
Figure 3 highlights the numerous existing and proposed new measures by the Scottish Government from 2022 to beyond 2025. This includes consulting on Circular Economy Bill proposals in 2022 to a ban on destruction of durable goods after 2025.

Circular Economy Bill Proposals

As has been highlighted in the previous sections, there is a range of activity already ongoing through policy, existing legislation and potential future regulation.

The next sections set out a number of areas in which we are seeking views on whether to take powers within a new Circular Economy Bill. These are split into 4 sections: Strategic Interventions; Reduce and Reuse; Recycle; and Littering and Improving Enforcement.



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