3. Recycle: maximising value of materials
Making sure that, where waste occurs, Scotland is gaining the most value from this and that we are not exporting poor quality material is essential for our economy and our responsibility as a global citizen.
‘Making Things Last’ set out clear policy ambitions on recycling, notably for recycling to be routine in every business and household, with more consistent local services; more packaging designed for recyclability; and improved recycling rates, in collaboration with the waste and packaging industries. It also committed to examine how best to minimise contamination in household and commercial recycling to maximise both quality and value.
A number of measures are already in place or in train to support collection, sorting and reprocessing of materials to achieve the highest possible value from materials and meet Scottish Government targets on recycling and on reducing waste being sent to landfill.
Case study: Shetland Islands Council
Shetland Islands Council consistently had one of the lowest recycling rates in Scotland due to the absence of a kerbside recycling service, with material instead going to the energy from waste plant in Lerwick. In 2018/19 Zero Waste Scotland provided funding to support the introduction of a new kerbside recycling service, with provision for collection of paper and cardboard in one container and plastic bottles and metal cans in another containers. This brought the Islands in line with the Household Recycling Charter’s supporting Code of Practice. Early indications show a good uptake of the new service with a high quality of material collected.
Scotland is committed to implementing a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers, with two of the main investment objectives being to improve the quantity and quality of recycling. The ambitious scheme is based on successful international equivalents and is designed to be widely accessible across Scotland.
Since 2013, Scotland’s annual tonnage of biodegradable municipal waste landfilled has been below the EU-based target to reduce the quantity of biodegradable municipal waste disposed to landfill to less than 1.26 million tonnes by 2020.
Scotland remains the only country in the UK to have legislated to ban biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill. Significant progress has been made and further measures will be put in place to support full compliance by the revised target date of 2025.
Our Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 introduced requirements on all waste producers (except householders) to take all reasonable steps to present key recyclable wastes separately for collection; and a duty on all local authorities to provide a comprehensive recycling service to their householders.
In partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), we have created the voluntary Scottish Household Recycling Charter, which seeks to deliver more consistent recycling collections across Scotland. Thirty out of thirty-two councils have signed that Charter and, of these, over a quarter have services that are broadly aligned with the guidance provided in its supporting Code of Practice.
Although household recycling rates have improved significantly over time and we are recycling more than we send to landfill, we know that overall progress on recycling is not what it needs to be if we are to meet our recycling targets and secure the high quality recyclate needed to attract reprocessing capacity to Scotland.
Contamination rates within household recycling collections remain higher than we would expect, meaning that some of the material collected is not being recycled. There is also local variation in household waste recycling performance and concerns have been raised that, given ongoing variation in approaches to recycling across Scotland, householders who want to recycle more are often confused about what can be recycled.
We intend to work in partnership with COSLA and local authorities to identify opportunities to support delivery and further enhance strategic approaches to waste and household recycling. By the end of 2019 we will host a recycling summit to bring together senior leaders across the public and private sectors to discuss ways to accelerate the pace of progress and ensure a more consistent, efficient and easier to understand approach to recycling.
Over the next year we will evaluate the Scottish Household Recycling Charter and review its supporting Code of Practice to ensure that it aligns with Scotland’s forthcoming deposit return scheme, as well as taking stock of recent amendments to the EU waste directives.
This activity is closely connected to work being taken forward in partnership with the other governments of the UK to establish a reformed extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging. As that scheme moves to recover 100% of the costs of dealing with packaging waste at end of life, it is expected to generate a substantial additional source of revenue. This, in turn, is likely to lead to significant changes in the funding model for local authority collection services, with funding provided via the EPR scheme for delivery of a specified model or outputs.
Strengthening approach to household recycling collection services
For recycling to continue to be a Scottish success story, we need a step change in some aspects of how we collect and manage household recycling.
Within the context of the circular economy bill, we are considering the value of a move away from the voluntary approach to Scotland’s Household Recycling Charter towards a more mandated approach, by enabling the Scottish Ministers to place further requirements on local authorities regarding household collection services.
Requirements could include, for example, placing aspects of the Scottish Household Recycling Charter and its supporting Code of Practice on a statutory footing, specifying materials to be targeted for collection or mandating how they are collected. The purpose of any additional requirements would be to accelerate improvements to both the quality and quantity of recycling that local authorities are collecting in Scotland and the provision of more consistent collections. As noted above, the Scottish Government sees reforms to the Charter, and particularly any move to a mandatory system of collection, as closely linked to forthcoming changes in packaging EPR and the funding model.
Other countries are already achieving higher recycling rates. In Wales - which has one of the highest household recycling rates in the world at 61% - a range of policies have been put in place to drive up performance. This includes establishing a national target which every local authority is expected to meet, with financial penalties that can be applied if an authority does not meet required performance. These measures go significantly further than we have so far proposed in Scotland, and would need the support of local government to be a success. We will explore with COSLA and other partners whether there are opportunities to enhance incentives in this way as part of our work on reviewing the Charter and the impact of packaging EPR reforms.
Supporting high quality recycling is everybody’s responsibility and it is important that we take all reasonable steps to ensure that householders can also play their full part.
The measures already described above to support more consistent approaches to household recycling are intended to ensure that householders are clearer about what they can recycle and how to do this.
There is evidence to suggest that rates of non-participation by householders in separating recyclable waste properly is high. There are no powers for local authorities to ensure that citizens are properly using their recycling containers or to prevent recycling being placed in non-recyclable containers.
Householders have some specific, albeit limited, obligations under the existing Duty of Care and its supporting Code of Practice to ensure that their waste is handled and stored safely and is only transferred to an appropriately-registered waste carrier.
More generally, Scotland’s Household Recycling Charter commits to encouraging citizens to participate in recycling and reuse services to ensure they are fully utilised. Where citizens do not follow collection advice and policies, the Charter states that local authorities will ensure that their policies for communicating and taking corrective action are delivered consistently in line with the Code of Practice. In practice, this is limited to serving warning notices and working with citizens to address contamination. In the most serious cases, a recycling service can be withdrawn if contamination within a recycling container is not addressed.
Given concerns highlighted above about the rate of progress on recycling and increased contamination of recyclate that is collected from householders, we are keen to hear views, as part of this consultation, on whether householders’ existing obligations are sufficient and if any further steps should be taken in Scotland to support, encourage or require householders to play their full part in improving both the quality and the quantity of materials provided for recycling.
Please note that there is a general question at the end of the consultation where you can provide further information, if required.
8. Do you agree with the principle of enabling Scottish Ministers to place additional requirements on local authorities in order to increase rates and quality of household recycling?
C) Neither agree nor disagree
If yes, what should these “additional requirements” be?
9. Do you agree with the principle of greater consistency in household recycling collections in different local authority areas?
C) Neither agree nor disagree
10. Do you consider that we should move away from the current voluntary approach to Scotland’s Household Recycling Charter towards a more mandated approach, whereby implementation of the Charter and its supporting Code of Practice becomes a statutory obligation?
C) Don’t know
11. Do you consider that householders’ existing obligations are sufficient?
C) Don’t know
12. Are there any other measures that you consider Scottish Government should take to help accelerate the rate and quality of household recycling in Scotland, taking account of experience and approaches elsewhere and existing householder behaviours?
C) Don’t know
If yes, please specify: