Circular economy and waste route map to 2030: consultation

The route map sets out strategic direction for delivering our system-wide, comprehensive vision Scotland’s circular economy from now to 2030. Building on a first consultation (2022), we are consulting on key priority actions that will unlock progress across the waste hierarchy.

Executive summary


The Scottish Government is committed to moving towards a circular economy and playing its part to tackle the climate emergency.

A circular economy, based on sustainable consumption and production, is essential to power Scotland’s transition to a fair, green and sustainable economy, and critical to meeting our obligations to tackle the twin climate and nature emergencies.

Material consumption and waste are primary drivers of nearly every environmental problem Scotland currently faces, from water scarcity to habitat and species loss.

Around four-fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from the products and services we manufacture, use and throw away and 90% of global biodiversity loss and water stress is caused by extraction and processing of these products.[1] [2]

The Scottish Government is committed to delivering a different approach to our economy, one where we move from a "take, make and dispose" model to one where we value materials and keep them in use.

We recognise this will be a challenging task and to achieve this Scotland needs to fundamentally change how it produces, consumes and manages our resources. The update to the Climate Change Plan[3] set out our circular economy 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.

To drive progress towards these circular economy goals, Scotland has had a set of waste and recycling targets in place for over the past decade, spanning the waste hierarchy. The Scottish Government has also set climate change ambitions to become a net zero greenhouse gas emitting nation by 2045[4]. Although the waste management sector now only directly accounts for around 4% of total Scottish greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable resource use is key to tackling climate change and will be vital for our efforts to reduce Scotland’s global carbon footprint, and for other sectors to deliver their own net zero goals.[5]

Scotland has made significant long-term progress towards reaching these ambitions.

The total amount of waste going to landfill in Scotland has dropped by over a third over the past decade (3 million tonnes or 30% of all waste managed was sent to landfill in 2021), and over 56% of waste was recycled in 2021. In the same year, we met our 2025 target to reduce all waste by 15%, and emissions from the waste management sector in 2021 were 76% lower than they were in 1990.

However, the sustainable choices are still not the easy or routine choices for households, businesses or those in the waste sector. Fundamental and rapid system change is required to drive progress, and ensure a more rapid transition to net zero and a fully circular economy in Scotland. To achieve our emissions envelope, we must more than half this to 0.7 MtCO2e by 2032, while emissions from energy from waste, reported as emissions in the Electricity Sector, were 0.3 MtCO2e in 2021.

Much has changed since most of our current targets were set in 2010. The climate emergency has intensified our focus on emissions reduction, and how we view and treat our resources. 50% of global carbon emissions and 90% of global biodiversity loss and water stress is caused by resource extraction and processing.[6] We can see day-to-day the impacts that climate change and the nature crises are having on our communities, our society, our economic wellbeing, and our environment – both here in Scotland and globally.


Founded on evidence and collaboration, the Route Map is part of the Scottish Government’s wider response to these challenges, sitting alongside a range of other strategies and plans. Delivery of the Circular Economy and Waste Route Map is a key commitment set out in the Scottish Programme for Government 2023-2024[7], and the Bute House Agreement[8]. It is designed to drive progress on three key fronts:

1. Setting the strategic direction and laying foundations for how we will deliver our system-wide, comprehensive vision for Scotland’s circular economy from now to 2030 – based on Responsible Production, Responsible Consumption, and Maximising Value from Waste and Energy.

2. Setting out priority actions from now to 2030 to accelerate more sustainable use of our resources across the waste hierarchy. We acknowledge the progress we have made against our existing 2025 waste reduction and recycling targets, the areas we have fallen short, and the lessons we can learn as we set out the framework for what comes next .

3. Reducing emissions associated with resources and waste. In 2024, the Scottish Government will set out how it will continue to drive down emissions in a draft Climate Change Plan (CCP)[9]. The Route Map sets out the opportunities we will take to decarbonise the waste sector.

In 2022, we set out a range of proposals across the resources and waste system through our Route Map consultation. This first consultation sought views on the feasibility and ambition of these proposals.[10] Earlier in 2023, we published the analysis of responses to this consultation.[11]

This draft Route Map reflects these findings, alongside further complementary research and analysis, updated impact assessments. It responds directly to feedback from the first consultation, prioritising and focusing on the key actions that will unlock progress across the waste hierarchy, outlining how we will deliver and coordinate these actions to achieve maximum positive impact for communities and businesses in Scotland.

It outlines what we intend to do, by when, and how we will work with others, to drive sustainable use and management of our resources up to 2030. It is aimed at everyone who has a role to play: the people and communities of Scotland, businesses, the third sector and the public sector, including local government. The direction and actions set out in this Route Map are complemented by the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill[12] and its provisions. The Bill will primarily create enabling powers that will set a framework for taking action into the future.

Strategic aims and actions

Measures in the Route Map are grouped under four strategic aims, which reflect the span of the waste hierarchy:

1. Reduce and reuse

2. Modernise recycling

3. Decarbonise disposal

4. Strengthen the circular economy

For each strategic aim to 2030, we set out our vision and objectives; our approach to measuring progress; we summarise where evidence tells us we are today and the actions we have taken so far; we set out the actions to take between now and 2030; and their system-wide impact and dependencies.

The way that material flows around the economy is complicated and influenced by everyone in the supply chain. To deliver system-wide transformation, we cannot work in silos. We recognise that all of our actions must be coordinated, properly sequenced, and designed to deliver cumulative impact and wider benefits to Scotland. The actions set out in this consultation are designed to build on, and complement, the range of existing measures already in place or underway.

Priority actions are the measures that we consider are critical to unlocking progress, and which we intend to focus on. This prioritisation is based on a review of the evidence, including feedback from the previous consultation, and the potential role of the priority actions in driving progress to 2030. We plan to deliver all priority measures, though this will be dependent on decisions taken when setting future Scottish budgets.

Each section also sets out the further actions we will seek to take. These actions are designed to complement the priority actions. In some cases they support delivery of the priority actions (e.g. underpinning research, data, legislation), while in other cases they will build on the priority actions through to 2030. This is reflected in the target delivery timelines. Again, ability to take forward each of these actions will be dependent on decisions taken when setting future Scottish budgets.

As a devolved nation, we have set out our clear commitment to seek to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards, where appropriate. We are taking action on policy measures that lie within devolved competence. However, we also recognise that many powers relating to the circular economy are reserved. These often relate to the production of our products, services and materials which involve supply chains that go beyond Scotland, spanning the UK, European Union, and the globe. It is clear that many areas to drive more rapid progress require further action from the UK Government. These areas include product design and standards, the role of VAT and tax to incentivise and encourage sustainable behaviours, and measures to influence global markets and reduce imported and exported emissions.

The section below sets out the priority and further actions under each strategic aim. We then ask a series of consultation questions to seek views and feedback on these actions. More detail on these actions can be found in Chapter 2 and the full policy table at the Annex.

1: Reduce and reuse

Reducing and reusing waste are the first goals of the waste hierarchy and central to changing our relationship with materials and products. Building an economic system that moves away from being based on items that are designed to be disposable will bring significant environmental benefits.

In this section, we have three main objectives:

  • Drive responsible consumption, production and re-use
  • Reduce food waste
  • Embed circular construction practices

Proposed actions:

Objective 1: Responsible consumption, production and re-use

Priority action:

  • Develop and publish a Product Stewardship Plan to identify and tackle the environmental impact of priority products (2025/26)

Further actions:

  • Deliver a prioritised approach to the introduction of environmental charges for problematic products (by 2025)
  • Introduce a charge for single-use disposable cups (by 2025)
  • Consult on actions regarding the environmental impacts of single-use vapes (ongoing)
  • Review the feasibility of setting reuse targets (from 2025)
  • Develop restrictions on the destruction of unsold consumer goods (from 2024)
  • Develop measures to improve the reuse experience for consumers (ongoing)
  • Deliver behaviour change-based approaches focused on sustainable consumption, aligned to Let’s Do Net Zero communications (ongoing)
  • Identify ways to expand business models that prolong product lifespan (ongoing)

Objective 2: Reduce food waste

Our Review of the 2019 Food Waste Reduction Action Plan outlines that we need to reset our approach to tackling food waste (see chapter 2). The actions outlined below are based on the evidence we have so far on how best we can reset our approach. We welcome views on how to enhance this to ensure our reset delivers at the speed and scale required to see sustained food waste reduction results.

Priority actions:

  • Deliver an intervention plan to guide long-term work on household food waste reduction behaviour change (by 2025)
  • Develop with stakeholders the most effective way to implement mandatory reporting for food waste and surplus by businesses (by 2025/26)

Further actions:

  • Strengthen data and evidence (ongoing)
  • Review the rural exemption for food waste recycling, as part of recycling codesign process (in 2024/25 and 2025/26)
  • Investigate feasibility of action plans (after 2025)
  • Deliver enhanced support for businesses (ongoing)

Objective 3: Embed circular construction practices

Priority action:

  • Support the development of regional Scottish hubs and networks for the reuse of construction materials and assets (from 2025)

Further actions:

  • Develop new and promote existing best practice standards in circular practices within the construction sector, and assess the options for both voluntary and mandatory compliance (ongoing)
  • Investigate and promote options to incentivise and build capacity for the refurbishment of buildings (by 2026/27)
  • Investigate and promote ways to reduce soil and stones disturbance, movement and volumes going to landfill (by 2026/27)
  • Review opportunities to accelerate adoption of climate change and circular economy focussed purchasing in construction (from 2024)
  • Consider how devolved taxes can incentivise the use of recycled aggregates and support circular economy practices (ongoing)

2: Modernise Recycling

Recycling helps to conserve our natural resources, keep valuable materials flowing through our economy and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. We want Scotland to become a world-leader in recycling, where recycling and reuse services are easy to use and accessible to all, and support and encourage positive choices. By 2030, we want a high-performing recycling system that has modernised recycling services for households and businesses across Scotland, optimised the performance of collection services, and can recycle most waste types to maximise diversion of waste from disposal. 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 here in Scotland.

The objectives are grouped under:

  • Modernise household recycling and reuse services, improving and optimising performance.
  • Support businesses in Scotland to reduce waste and maximise recycling.

Proposed actions

Objective 1: Modernise household and reuse services

Priority action:

  • Facilitate a co-design process with Local Government for high quality, high performing household recycling and reuse services (2024/25 and 2025/26)

Further actions:

  • Develop a statutory code of practice for household waste services (by 2025/26)
  • Introduce statutory recycling and reuse local performance targets for household waste services (from 2030)
  • Strengthen the Householder’s duty of care in relation to waste (by 2025/26)
  • Give local authorities more tools to support household recycling and reduce contamination (by 2025/26)
  • Undertake a review of waste and recycling service charging (by 2024/25)
  • Review the monitoring and reporting framework for local authority waste services (by 2025/26)
  • Develop options and consult on the introduction of end destination public reporting of household recycling collected (by 2027/28)

Objective 2: Support businesses in Scotland to reduce waste and maximise recycling

Priority actions:

  • Review of compliance with commercial recycling requirements (2025)
  • Co-design measures to improve commercial waste service provisions (2026/27)

Further actions:

  • Conduct a national compositional study of waste from commercial premises (by 2025/26)
  • Investigate further steps to promote business-business reuse platforms (by 2027)

3: Decarbonise Disposal

The production and management of waste results in environmental impacts and represents missed economic opportunities for these materials. That is why our focus in this Route Map is to prevent materials from becoming waste in the first place. As we accelerate our move to a circular economy, we will produce less waste. We want to ensure that materials that cannot be avoided, reused or recycled are managed in a way that minimises environmental and climate impacts, encourages management of materials further up the waste hierarchy, and minimises broader societal impacts.

The objectives are to:

  • Understand the best environmental outcomes for specific wastes
  • Ensure there is an appropriate capacity to manage waste
  • Improve environmental outcomes for waste through innovation
  • Incentivise decarbonisation of the waste sector

Proposed actions

Priority actions:

  • Develop and deliver a Residual Waste Plan to 2045 (develop by 2025/26)
  • Facilitate the development of a Sector-Led Plan to minimise the carbon impacts of the Energy from Waste Sector (by 2025/26)

Further actions:

  • Support the inclusion of energy from waste in the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and investigate other fiscal measures to incentivise low carbon disposal (from 2028)
  • Review and target materials currently landfilled to identify and drive alternative management routes (from 2024)
  • Facilitate the co-production of guidelines for effective community engagement (process underway from 2024)
  • Increase the capture of landfill gas (by 2025)

4: Strengthen the circular economy

Delivering a circular economy is not a simple task. It requires sustained transformational system change, and a range of actions that are both complementary and coordinated to drive sustainable management of our resources. If Team Scotland are to maximise the opportunities that a circular economy brings to Scotland, we must maintain a strategic approach to its delivery, ensuring the right structures and support are in place to enable action across the circular economy.

The objectives are to:

  • Provide strategic oversight and direction for the delivery of a circular economy in Scotland.
  • Coordinate action across cross-cutting areas to support progress across the waste hierarchy.
  • Robustly monitor and evaluate progress to enable agile working, take action where we are not on track, and learn from and implement what works.

Proposed actions

Priority actions:

  • Develop a Circular Economy strategy every five years (from 2025)
  • Set new circular economy targets (determined from 2025)

Further actions:

  • Review and refresh Scotland’s Waste Data Strategy’s action plan (development alongside new circular economy targets)
  • Maintain a programme of research on waste prevention, behaviour change, fiscal incentives and material-specific priorities (ongoing)
  • Develop public procurement opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of public spending, including scoping new legislative circular economy requirements for contracting authorities under section 82 and 82A of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 (ongoing)
  • Support greater uptake of green skills, training and development opportunities (ongoing)


The Route Map’s vision and priority actions will lay the groundwork for Scotland’s approach to more sustainable management of resources and delivery of a circular economy in this decade, helping to guide the future development and delivery of strategies and plans. We recognise that this level of economic transformation will take time, and we set out our intention later in this Route Map to develop a new statutory circular economy strategy from 2025 (see ‘Strengthen the circular economy’ section). This strategy will build from the Route Map’s framework, taking a strategic long-term view of what is needed to deliver a circular economy across a range of systems and sectors.

Achieving this transformation is a shared endeavour. A circular economy can only be delivered through a Team Scotland approach, defined by collaboration and co-design. We can only be successful if everyone plays their part – government, households, communities, charities and businesses. Our approach to the development and delivery of these actions will be guided by both the Verity House Agreement[13] and New Deal for Business Group’s recommendations and implementation plan[14].

Some of the policy measures we need to drive the transition to a fully circular economy also rely on action by the UK Government, and these areas are highlighted in the Route Map.

The way that material flows around the economy is complicated and influenced by everyone in the supply chain. In developing the Route Map, we have considered the bigger picture – including our global carbon and environmental footprint – to create, prioritise and deliver a package of measures that is greater than the sum of its parts, to maximise the benefit to Scotland of the transition to a circular economy. We have taken a ‘material-first’ approach, where we take a targeted, coordinated approach to materials across the waste hierarchy, recognising the variations in emissions and environmental impact of production, consumption or management of different materials and products.

We recognise that the system-wide change we need will impact everyone. It must be designed and delivered in a fair, inclusive way. We are committed to ensuring that future generations and those least able to pay are not unfairly burdened, and that existing inequalities are tackled, not exacerbated - particularly in the context of the cost of living challenges we are now facing, and the Scottish Government’s national mission to tackle poverty and protect people from harm.[15]

We recognise that not all policy measures are fully ready to be implemented in Scotland and will need further development. As work is undertaken to finalise and deliver the Route Map, we intend to maintain a robust, evidence-based approach to ensure we maximise impact and deliver value for money for the people, communities and businesses of Scotland. High-level and screening impact assessments have been updated to accompany this consultation to support this process, alongside an Environmental Report. This sets out findings on the likely environmental implications arising from the measures set out within the Route Map. Further information about our approach to impact assessments can be found at Chapter 3.

Responding to the consultation

This consultation is an important moment to reflect as a nation, and ensure we have the right priorities to drive delivery of sustainable resource management and a circular economy in Scotland through to 2030. To support the consultation process, we are looking to hear from the widest possible range of people and organisations across Scotland on the draft Route Map presented here. Following this consultation, we will undertake analysis of consultation responses in order to understand the full range of views on the Route Map, its proposals and impact assessments. We will also undertake further supporting analysis or research where required.

We intend to confirm the final Circular Economy and Waste Route Map later in 2024.

Please ensure that consultation responses are submitted before the closing date of Friday 15 March 2024.

Please respond to this consultation using the Scottish Government's consultation platform, Citizen Space. You can view and respond to this consultation online here, or by completing a Respondent Information Form.



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