Developing Scotland's circular economy - proposals for legislation: analysis of responses

Independent analysis of responses to the “Developing Scotland’s circular economy: consultation on proposals for legislation” paper which included proposals for a circular economy bill and two secondary regulations relating to single-use carrier bags and procurement.

9 Other comments (Q22)

9.1 The final section of the consultation paper invited any other comments about topics relevant to the subject of the consultation.

Question 22: Do you have any other comments that you would like to make, relevant to the subject of this consultation that you have not covered in your answers to other questions?

9.2 This was an open question, and altogether 350 respondents (133 organisations and 217 individuals) provided comments.

9.3 Respondents' comments at Question 22 were generally very lengthy and detailed. Both organisations and individuals often identified what they perceived as gaps in the proposals set out in the consultation paper. These respondents frequently raised multiple issues in their answers to Question 22, sometimes citing published research evidence to support their views.

9.4 Other respondents elaborated on their answers to earlier questions in the consultation - particularly in relation to the closed questions for which there was no dedicated space for comments. This group of respondents often discussed what they saw as the positive aspects of the proposals, but they also frequently raised concerns or highlighted issues relating to the practical implementation of the proposals discussed in the consultation paper

9.5 A detailed analysis of the comments made at Question 22 is beyond the scope of this report. However, all the comments made at Question 22 will be carefully considered by the Scottish Government and further in-house analysis is being undertaken by the relevant policy teams.

9.6 The focus of this chapter will be restricted to: (i) respondents' general views about the Circular Economy Bill proposals, (ii) a brief summary of any additional proposals that respondents made in relation to the main areas of focus in the consultation (i.e. reduce / reuse / recycle, etc.), and (iii) perceived gaps in the proposals. These three broad areas are covered below. A final paragraph provides a summary of concerns expressed at Question 22 about the consultation process.

General views on the proposals set out in the consultation paper

9.7 Respondents generally welcomed the proposals set out in the consultation. At the same time, however, there was a recurring view that the proposals did not go far enough. Those who expressed this view argued that most of the proposals in the consultation paper were targeted at changing the behaviours of householders, consumers, and members of the public. Respondents believed that Scotland needs a 'new economic model' - that a circular economy cannot be conceived of as an 'add-on', or something that runs alongside the traditional economic model, which is based on economic growth. Respondents who expressed these views wanted to see more radical, system-level interventions that would aim to reduce production and consumption. The point was made that building a truly circular economy will require 'a transformative shift in culture and practice across government, business and third sectors, as well as in communities and families'.

9.8 Even among those respondents who did not explicitly call for full-scale transformation of the Scottish economy, there was nevertheless a view that the proposals set out in the consultation paper were unlikely to achieve the level of behaviour change required to tackle current environmental challenges. It was argued that more far reaching measures are needed and that these must not only encourage people / businesses 'who try to do the right thing' for the environment, but they must also penalise those who do not.

9.9 Respondents repeatedly suggested that the Scottish Government should look to the Netherlands which has a target of moving to a circular economy by 2050.

Respondents' additional proposals

9.10 Respondents often suggested additional actions that the Scottish Government could take in relation to each of the main areas of work set out in the consultation paper: (i) reduce: tackling our throwaway culture, (ii) reuse: encouraging use and reuse to prevent waste, (iii) recycle: maximising the value of materials, (iv) improving enforcement and (v) secondary legislation. Some of these suggestions were very detailed and specific. As much as possible, this section focuses on some of the higher-level proposals suggested by respondents.

Reduce: tackling our throwaway culture

9.11 There was a recurring view among organisations and individuals that the proposals in the consultation paper relating to reducing consumption did not go far enough. Those who had this view emphasised that to drive change towards a more circular economy, society needs to consume less. Some of the additional high-level proposals suggested by this group included:

  • Setting targets to reduce Scotland material 'footprint' (i.e. the total volume of raw materials used in all goods consumed in Scotland, regardless of their place of origin) - with a repeated call to reduce Scotland's carbon footprint to net zero by 2050, and to reduce key elements of Scotland's material footprint (i.e. metals, minerals and fossil fuel feedstocks) by 50% by 2030.
  • Produce a 'resource reduction plan' and update it every five years. This should include outcomes, milestones and a dedicated budget with annual reporting requirements. Alongside this, establish a committee to advise the Scottish Government on how to meet the targets set in the plan. A resource reduction plan would focus on different sectors (textiles, construction, electrical goods, etc.), and propose the policies needed to make Scotland's economy less wasteful and more sustainable.

9.12 Examples of some of the other specific suggestions offered by respondents included the following:

  • All proposed alternatives to single-use items (e.g. beverage cups) should be rigorously examined before being promoted to understand their full environmental impact, and to ensure that they are not environmentally harmful.
  • Labelling should be used to help consumers understand how 'circular' a product is - this should include standards for testing microfibre loss from clothing and tyres.
  • Public water fountains should be provided - it was thought this could have a very positive impact on reducing the number of single use drinks bottles sold.
  • Subsidies to fossil fuel industries should be reduced and then eliminated.
  • Financial support should be provided to small-scale grocery stores (and encouragement should be provided to large supermarkets) to go plastic free. This could be done by, for example: (i) reducing or waiving business rates for zero-waste shops, (ii) including zero-waste shopping in any educational literature about how best to manage household waste, (iii) providing incentives to businesses to be more responsible with their waste (e.g. reduced rates on recyclables, higher rates on landfill), and (iv) educating small businesses on the appropriate use of single-use plastics and compostable alternatives.
  • Some respondents (especially those with an industry perspective) argued that single-use cups are likely to remain part of on-the-go sales of hot and cold drinks for years to come. These respondents suggested that the income from charges on single-use disposable beverage cups should be invested in developing a recycling infrastructure for these cups in Scotland.

Reuse: encouraging use and reuse to prevent waste

9.13 Respondents emphasised that encouraging 'reuse' is a key aspect of developing a more circular economy, and should be prioritised in the Circular Economy Bill. Some pointed out that the policy and objectives in the 2016 policy paper, Making Things Last, appeared to be absent in the proposals set out in the consultation paper.

9.14 While respondents agreed that greater consistency in recycling would be desirable, they also wanted to see the development of a household reuse charter which would put reuse on a comparable (or even preferential) basis to recycling. Indeed, those who raised this issue thought that it was important to challenge the assumption that recycling is the most suitable end for most resources. This group also argued that an economy based on sharing would be both more affordable and more accessible. They emphasised that 'it should not be cheaper to buy something new than to repair it'.

9.15 In terms of specific actions:

  • Some respondents wanted the Circular Economy Bill to give much greater attention to tackling 'planned obsolescence' - the forced renewal of technology leading to the unnecessary disposal of electronics. This group argued that this type of business model is resulting in the depletion of precious resources and environmental contamination, and they wanted to see a stronger emphasis on developing products that are durable. This could be achieved, for example, by requiring minimum 10-year warranties on all new products.
  • Some respondents pointed to a need for more specific action to promote reuse in the construction sector. It was noted that current sustainability standards in the construction industry only look at the quantity of construction waste diverted from landfill - no extra credit is given for following circular economy principles and making this material available for reuse - which means that sending construction waste wood for chipping is given as much credit as diverting it for community reuse.
  • Some suggested using legislation to encourage retailers to incentivise the return of items for reuse or recycling - for example, by offering discounts to customers on spectacles, mattresses, shoes, etc., if the customer returns old items.
  • Others suggested adding reuse metrics (targets and monitoring) to the Household Recycling Charter. Alongside this, there were calls for tool and toy libraries, and share and reuse hubs to be established across Scotland, and a new focus on investing in a 'repair economy'.

9.16 Regarding the development of a new 'repair economy', there was a suggestion that a minimum two-year warranty could be introduced on all reused / remanufactured products sold by approved reuse centres. It was thought that this type of action would increase consumer confidence, encourage reuse and drive sales in the second-hand sector.

9.17 Some respondents highlighted the experiences of:

  • France, which is looking at implementing legislation to label products with information about the availability of spare parts
  • Finland, which is exploring municipal lending, leasing and renting of electrical equipment
  • Sweden, which has proposed tax changes to allow its citizens to claim tax relief on half the cost of repairing white goods.

Recycle: maximising the value of materials

9.18 Some respondents noted that there was a great deal of emphasis in the consultation paper on increasing recycling rates. However, this group pointed out that, in circular economy terms, recycling should be the very last resort before disposal. It was suggested that the Circular Economy Bill should acknowledge this.

9.19 At the same time, respondents made a wide range of suggestions relating to the topic of recycling, calling for:

  • More support for developing reprocessing facilities and end-markets in Scotland for materials collected in Scotland
  • The development of options for incentivising or requiring a certain percentage of recycled content to be used in the manufacture of all new products sold in Scotland
  • Local authority recycling centres to be required to have associated outlets for items that can be repaired or reused
  • Investment in research to develop new biodegradable materials - and incentives for those materials to be taken up by the market
  • The problem of 'monstrous hybrids' - which combine man-made technical and organic materials in ways that makes them unable to be recycled or reused - to be addressed
  • Careful consideration of the implications and financial impact for local authorities of introducing a (largely welcomed) mandatory approach to recycling - in particular, it was noted that account needed to be take of (i) Scotland's diverse geography (rural, island, high-density urban areas, etc.), and (ii) the income local authorities were able to generate from garden waste collection under current waste regulations

9.20 Additionally, respondents emphasised the importance of ensuring that proposals to increase recycling rates lead to genuine improvement, rather than an overall lowering of standards.

Improving enforcement

9.21 There was less commentary at Question 22 in relation to the proposals in the consultation paper relating to enforcement - although general support was expressed for tackling litter and waste crime. However, some of the points made by respondents in relation to this particular issue were the following.

  • Respondents wanted clarification of who exactly would be responsible for the seizure of vehicles involved in waste crimes - SEPA, the Police, or local authorities. It was noted that local authorities have limited resources available for enforcement and as a result, enforcement action is seldom taken. Therefore, any additional demands in this area must be fully funded. It was also suggested that the Scottish Government should ensure that any proposed new enforcement powers relating to waste crime are fully supported by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).
  • It was suggested that local councils should be permitted and funded to install cameras at problem road junctions where littering is a significant issue, and to take action on the basis of footage captured. There were also suggestions that it should be made easier for other road users to report the registration number of vehicles involved in littering. This could involve the submission of dash-cam evidence.
  • Some respondents thought that the removal (or significant reduction) of local authority charges for uplifting bulky items would have a substantial impact on fly-tipping. (It was said that people will often hire a 'man with a van' to remove such items for less than their local authority charges, and that this practice is the cause of much fly-tipping across Scotland.)
  • Some respondents highlighted what they saw as a range of problems in current waste legislation. These respondents suggested that the legal process for enforcing waste penalties in Scotland is cumbersome and outdated. They also noted that current legislation which classifies certain materials as 'waste' can prevent these materials being used as a resource. (The example was given of the diversion of grit and stones from water treatment - which could otherwise be used as an aggregate.) Respondents thought that current waste legislation was complicated ('too many amendments / acts, etc.') and needed to be revised in light of current circular economy ambitions. They called for a thorough review to identify (i) where existing legislation is acting as a barrier to innovation, and (ii) where new legislation is required to support innovation.

Secondary legislation

9.22 The consultation paper discussed proposed changes to public procurement and the current 5p minimum charge on single-use carrier bags.


9.23 There were a wide range of very detailed comments relating to the Scottish Government's proposal to introduce circular economy and climate change obligations into public sector procurement strategies. While some respondents asked for more details of this proposal, others questioned its likely impact.

9.24 Among those respondents who thought public procurement had an important role in helping to shift to a more circular economy, additional suggestions were made in relation to this topic. One suggestion made repeatedly related to a need to tackle the problem of 'green washing' - whereby producers / companies make unsubstantiated claims about their sustainability credentials. This practice was reported to be an obstacle to procuring authentic circular products. Respondents suggested that work needed to be undertaken to standardise ways of measuring the environmental impacts of products. Other specific suggestions included:

  • Developing an online marketplace to help procurement professionals with the sourcing of circular products and services
  • Ensuring that public procurement prioritises hiring, sharing and reuse, by requiring a business case to justify the purchase of new products
  • Placing additional demands on procuring departments including through: (i) ensuring that Green Public Procurement Guidelines[26] are being followed, (ii) a requirement to report on 'circular spending' (i.e. service hire, product sharing, repair of existing products, or purchasing second-hand), (iii) a requirement to demonstrate a year-on-year increase in circular spending, (iv) a requirement on suppliers to report on material and carbon footprints, etc.

9.25 There were also suggestions to introduce a requirement for the private sector in Scotland (not just the public sector) to consider climate change and circular economy obligations in their procurement strategies.

Single-use carrier bags

9.26 Respondents made a number of points in relation to the proposal to increase the 5p minimum charge on single-use carrier bags to 10p. First, they pointed out that this change in policy had indeed resulted in less use of single-use carrier bags. However, they also argued that (i) substantial numbers of single-use carrier bags continue to be purchased by consumers, and (ii) there has been a large increase in the purchase of 'bags for life', which are generally not appropriate alternatives to single-use bags as these are often made of plastic. Respondents who raised this issue wanted to see a legal ban on all plastic bags.

Perceived gaps in the proposals

9.27 Respondents identified a range of perceived 'gaps' in the proposals in the consultation paper. The main identified gaps are discussed briefly here.

Restoration / regeneration

9.28 A recurring view expressed by respondents was that one of the key features of a circular economy relates to the restoration and regeneration of natural systems. These respondents noted that the current proposals included no actions related to this important area, and they called for the Circular Economy Bill to include measures relating to agriculture and the land use sector. Specifically, those who raised this issue wanted to see:

  • A commitment to 'nutrient budgeting'[27] including a phosphorus balance sheet
  • A national 'soils plan', which reports on a five-year cycle on the state of Scotland's soils - monitoring soil loss and health - with ambitious targets to increase soil carbon based on biophysical potential, and the creation of the post of Chief Soils Officer within the Scottish Government
  • A duty on land managers to maintain and enhance soil carbon levels and to prevent soil erosion
  • A levy paid on any activity which seals soil (and therefore destroys its regenerative capacity - with this levy used for remediation of contaminated soils and peatland.

Economic development in a circular economy

9.29 Some respondents highlighted a need for greater support to be given to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and fledgling businesses that wish to operate in more sustainable ways. Respondents' suggestions included:

  • Establishing a 'circular business verification' scheme (similar to a Fair Trade mark) which would give small sustainable start-ups financial aid, rent or rates relief, access to public sector estate buildings, and business enterprise support for a period of time to help them become established
  • Providing extra funding to local authorities to work with SMEs to introduce circular economy principles to their businesses
  • Supporting companies to work together to share and reuse resources while at the same time allowing them to remain competitive in their respective markets
  • Reducing tax / rates for businesses that demonstrate good practice.

Linking the Circular Economy Bill to other internationally agreed standards

9.30 There were suggestions that the Circular Economy Bill should be explicitly aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[28] - including SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production and SDG 8, which aims to 'promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all'. There was also a suggestion that links should be made to Just Transition principles.[29]

Communication / education

9.31 Some respondents commented that the consultation had omitted any mention of education and awareness-raising to drive changes in consumption. Those who raised this point argued that there was a need for good quality environmental education within the school curriculum - and that members of the public (including children and young people) need better information to understand the actions they can take to live more sustainably.

Developing a circular economy in specific sectors

9.32 In addition to the construction, agriculture and land-use sectors (discussed above), respondents repeatedly highlighted the need to develop a more circular economy in the healthcare, tourism and fishing sectors, and they thought that legislation / government intervention was likely to be needed to encourage this.

Views on the consultation

9.33 Some respondents commented on the large number of closed questions in the consultation paper - and the lack of space after many of the questions for comments. The point was made that the issues addressed were complex, and the design of the consultation questionnaire had made it difficult for respondents to express their views on this complexity in their responses. Respondents (particularly organisations) requested further consultation on detailed proposals before any proposals are implemented.



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