Making Things Last: a circular economy strategy for Scotland

Our circular economy strategy to build a strong economy, protect our resources and support the environment.

6. Recycling

6.2 Our ambition

We want businesses, local authorities, the third sector and householders to work together so that recycling becomes routine in every business, household and community - with more consistent local services and more packaging designed for recyclability - and we want every household in Scotland to have access to a food waste service. We also want to improve the quality of recyclate to enable more materials to be returned to the same use, and greater benefit to be retained in Scotland.

6.3 Context

Our action on recycling is driven by long-term Scottish targets to recycle 70% of all waste, and to send no more than 5% of all waste to landfill, both by 2025. The challenge is to increase the quantity and quality of materials recycled to support a more circular economy; while tackling contamination and working to remove poor quality and illegal activity from the sector.

Contamination is a barrier to high quality recycling. Even low levels of contamination can render materials unsuitable for reprocessing, losing value. The complex nature of materials and the way in which they move through our economy can also get in the way of the recycling of packaging and other consumer goods with a high turnover.

We have put in place a framework to deliver our aim of supporting a more circular economy through our recycling systems. There are four key elements to this framework.

Figure - Framework for improving recycling

Figure - Framework for improving recycling

First, the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 [15] set out requirements for the separate collection of key materials, including food waste, and prohibit any separately collected material going to incineration or landfill.

Second, the Scottish Household Recycling Charter [16] , a joint initiative between national and local government, sets out a more consistent approach to household recycling collection systems, supported by a Code of Practice, to:

  • increase householder participation in recycling;
  • improve the quality of recyclate; and
  • provide greater economic benefits and opportunities for savings in local authorities.

Third, the Scottish Materials Brokerage Service will deliver collaborative contracts for waste and recyclable materials from local authorities and other public bodies of sufficient scale to help local authorities and public bodies achieve a better deal, and reduce risk from price volatility. This will support the business conditions for investment in domestic reprocessing in Scotland by providing certainty in the volume and duration of supply of valuable materials.

Finally, the statutory Code of Practice for Materials Recovery Facilities [17] introduces a sampling procedure to improve transparency of waste moving through our economy, and importantly to improve the quality of materials arriving for sorting.

SEPA will continue to engage and support waste producers and service providers to ensure compliance with the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 and use appropriate enforcement procedures, including fixed penalty powers on waste producers that persistently fail to take all reasonable steps to segregate material for recycling.

By signing the Scottish Household Recycling Charter and subsequently implementing the systems described in the Code of Practice, local authorities will be in a stronger position to stimulate inward investment and subsequent job creation in recycling and reprocessing industries, and retain and enhance existing jobs in waste collection.

6.4 Our priorities

To support local authorities in securing the benefits of a more circular approach, we will explore with councils their view on the way that their duties are currently defined - as waste disposal and collection authorities, rather than resource management or similar authorities - influences their activities.

We will take a ' whole supply chain' approach to recycling, recognising that all players need to work together to supply and demand high quantity and high quality recycling, identifying and working with key partners to deliver improvements. We will target interventions across the supply chain to continue to address quality.

Because of the impact on quality of recyclate from contamination, we intend to review the specific circumstances in which contamination arises in household and commercial collection systems; in particular mixed collections with glass; food waste collections; and contamination of dry recyclables by food. This will help local authorities get the most from their recyclate in a challenging commodities market and improve the quality of recycling available for reprocessing.

Preventing food waste is our priority, but to ensure that as many households and businesses as possible are able to divert unavoidable food waste away from landfill, we intend to review the rural exemption for food waste in the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012. Where food waste is already collected, our priority is supporting small food businesses that now come into the scope of the waste regulations. More broadly, we intend to support small businesses in meeting their obligations under the waste regulations.

We intend to build on the collaborative approach to the Scottish Household Recycling Charter and work closely with the waste, grocery and packaging industry, moving beyond collection systems into markets, communication and packaging design, while continuing to learn from experiences abroad.

We will build on the evidence provided to Zero Waste Scotland and give further consideration to the role that a deposit return system could play in Scotland.

Falkirk Council Leads the Way

In 2014, Falkirk Council was the first local authority in the UK to move to three-weekly residual waste collections, which it launched as part of a new recycling service for residents. Several local authorities around the UK have subsequently followed Falkirk's lead, with its new service cutting costs and seeing recycling rates increase.

The local authority continues to lead the way, recently being announced as the first council in Scotland to sign up to the Scottish Government and COSLA's Household Recycling Charter. The Charter aims to create consistent household recycling collections across the country. It includes a new three-stream recycling system, which will include one container for glass, one for paper and card, and one for metals and plastics, together with existing food waste and residual collections. Over time, the intention is to move to a common colour system.

Falkirk's decision to get on board was based on the Charter's potential to save costs and increase public understanding of recycling - two good reasons for doing so.

Falkirk Council Leads the Way


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