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.

Chapter 1. Introduction and case for change

Introduction: A circular economy in Scotland

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.[16] [17]

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 resources. The update to the Climate Change Plan[18] 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.


1.1 Why do we need the Circular Economy and Waste Route Map?

Much has changed since most of our current waste 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.[19]

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 (see Strategic context for change below). Delivery of the Circular Economy and Waste Route Map is a key commitment set out in the Scottish Programme for Government 2023-2024[20], and the Bute House Agreement[21]. 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)[22]. The Route Map sets out the opportunities we will take to decarbonise the waste sector.

The Route Map’s intention is to outline what we intend to do, by when, and how we will work with others, to drive sustainable use and management of our resources, and lay the groundwork for delivery of Scotland’s circular economy 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.

1.2 The development of the Route Map

In 2022, we set out a range of proposals across the resources and waste system through our Route Map consultation. The consultation sought views on the feasibility and ambition of these proposals in order to reach our 2025 waste and recycling targets, and to achieve our long term goal of net zero by 2045.[23]

Earlier in 2023, we published the analysis of responses to this consultation.[24]

This draft Route Map reflects these findings, alongside further complementary research and 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. Through this second consultation, open until Friday 15 March 2024, we are inviting views on these priorities, before final publication of the Route Map later in 2024.

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), alongside new circular economy targets from 2025. The 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.

1.3 Relationship with the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill

The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill[25], introduced in June 2023, contains provisions that require primary legislation to underpin Scotland’s transition to a circular economy, and modernise Scotland’s waste and recycling services. If passed, the Bill will primarily deliver new powers that will set a framework for taking action into the future. The direction and actions set out in this Route Map are complemented by the provisions in the Bill, and in some places are dependent on enabling powers flowing from the Bill if passed.

Case for change

2.1 Scotland’s waste and recycling targets

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 (see Figure 1 below)[26]:

  • 15% reduction of all waste by 2025, against 2011 levels
  • 33% reduction of food waste by 2025, based on 2013 baseline
  • Minimum of 60% recycling of household waste by 2020
  • Minimum of 70% recycling of all waste by 2025
  • Maximum 5% of all waste to landfill by 2025
  • A ban on all biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill by 2025
Figure 1: Scotland’s Waste Hierarchy

As the first Circular Economy and Waste Route Map consultation[27] set out, Scotland has made good 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), over 56% of waste was recycled in 2021. In the same year we met our 2025 target to reduce all waste by 15%.

Table 1 below summarises the progress against these targets. In addition, Scotland had a target to recycle and reuse 70% of construction and demolition waste by 2020. This target has been met every year since 2011.

However, in some areas we have fallen short, and progress has not been at the pace and scale required. While the 2025 targets have provided a good platform for progress over the past decade, we know from the Route Map’s analysis that they are not universally the best indicators to deliver our circular economy, emissions and nature objectives.[28] ‘All waste’ tonnage-based targets do not account for the varying environmental or carbon impact of individual materials. This was reinforced by recent Climate Change Committee advice to the Scotland Government and Parliament, which recommended that Scotland “set targets to reduce waste and improve recycling rates beyond 2025”… “on the basis of separate waste streams (rather than 'All waste') and where possible consider carbon-based metrics.” [29]

As the first consultation’s review of our resources and waste system found, the sustainable choices are still not the easy choices for households, businesses or those in the waste sector, and large-scale, 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.[30]

As we set out what comes next to 2030 through this Route Map and the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, we recognise the role 2025 targets have played, and the lessons we can learn moving forward. The actions set out in this Route Map are designed to chart what must come next to deliver the pace and scale required to meet our resources and circular economy objectives – including the role of future targets.



Reduce total waste arising in Scotland by 15% against 2011 levels

ON TRACK: 20% (2021)

Highly variable from year-to-year, strongly linked to scale of construction and demolition activity. Household and Commercial & Industrial waste trend is gradually reducing.

Reduce food waste by 33% against 2013 levels

OFF TRACK: 5% increase against the 2013 baseline (2021 food waste estimate). Per capita, equivalent to 189 kg per person per year, an increase of 4kg or 2% against the baseline.

This reflects a similar pattern to the UK as a whole, with 2021 data likely influenced by the Covid-19

pandemic.[31] Scotland is highly unlikely to meet its target to reduce food waste by 33% by 2025.

Minimum of 60% recycling of household waste by 2020

MISSED: 43.3% (2022)

Progress plateaued at around 45% for several years. It fell back to 42% in 2020 (Covid-19 impact). Local authority recycling rates range from 20.7% - 57.8%.

Minimum of 70% recycling of all waste by 2025

AT RISK: 56.3% (2021)

Steady increase since 2011, but fell back from 61% (2018) due to Covid-19 impacts. Year-on-year variability from 2011-2016, largely driven by construction and demolition waste.

Maximum 5% of all waste to landfill by 2025

OFF TRACK: 30.2% (2021)

Waste sent to landfill fell from around 7 million tonnes in 2005 to around 2.4 million tonnes in 2022. Rapid decline in waste going to landfill recently, driven by shift from landfill to incineration.

Ban on all biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill by 2025

ON TRACK: 707,000 tonnes (2022)

Overall trend is a 45% decrease since 2011.

Table 1: Progress towards Scotland's 2025 waste and recycling targets.

2.2 Climate targets

The Scottish Government has set climate change ambitions to become a net zero greenhouse gas emitting nation by 2045[32]. We have committed to doing this in a way that is just and fair for all people across Scotland. We know we must also take responsibility for our global carbon footprint associated with the goods and services we import.

2.2.1 Waste sector emissions

The 2020 Climate Change Plan update[33] set out emission 'envelopes' for each sector, including waste, which reflect the overall pathway to meeting our statutory targets to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 (compared with 1990) and to net zero by 2045.

Within Scotland, total greenhouse gas emissions have approximately halved since 1990, with waste management sector emissions reducing even faster during that period. In 2021, the waste management sector emissions stood at 1.5 MTCO2e, 76% lower than the 6.5 MtCO2e in 1990.[34] The subsector covering waste incineration with energy recovery has its carbon dioxide emissions accounted for under the Electricity sector, rather than waste management. Emissions from energy from waste were 0.3 MtCO2e in 2021, representing 19% of Electricity Sector emissions.

While progress has been made to reduce sector emissions, to achieve the emissions envelope, we must more than halve waste sector emissions from their current position (1.5 MtCO2e in 2021), to 0.7 MtCO2e by 2032. As part of this process, we must look at all sources of greenhouse gas emissions across the resources and waste sector, including legacy emissions from landfill sites and critical opportunities to decarbonise incineration, as outlined in Dr Church’s independent review of incineration and its role in the waste hierarchy[35] [36].

2.2.2 Scotland’s global carbon footprint

Scotland's statutory emissions reduction targets, set out in the Climate Change Plan, are based on emissions from sources located here in Scotland. However, we know we must also take responsibility for our global carbon footprint associated with the goods and services we import[37].

Although the waste management sector now only directly accounts for around 4% of total Scottish greenhouse gas emissions as reported through the Climate Change Plan, around four-fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from the products and services we manufacture, use and throw away.[38] [39] This underlines the work we must undertake together: sustainable resource use is key to tackling climate change and will be vital for other sectors to deliver their own net zero goals.[40]

2.3 Strategic context for change

Our work to deliver a circular economy and drive sustainable resource management does not sit apart from the world we live in and the major challenges we collectively face. The move to a circular economy directly supports the Scottish Government’s three national missions around equality, opportunity and community.[41]

By delivering a circular economy in Scotland, we can support:

Our environment: Cutting our material consumption is one of the most important ways that we can all limit our impact on the environment, both in Scotland and globally. Our waste and circular economy objectives are core pillars of our Environment Strategy[42] and its outcomes[43]. Creating sustainable growth is a key part of the Scottish Government's purpose and the circular economy supports progress towards the National Performance Framework outcome for the environment ('we value, enjoy, protect and enhance our environment'); contributes to a range of UN Sustainable Development Goals[44]; and helps to embed our economy in the natural world, recognising the need to live within the sustainable limits of our single, shared planet.[45] A primary driver of biodiversity loss internationally is extraction and manufacturing of raw materials, and the disturbance of soils, which are only recently being fully recognised as extremely important biodiversity ecosystems. Our biodiversity strategy[46] outlines real-world examples of how the circular economy can make a tangible contribution to halting biodiversity loss by 2030 and reversing declines by 2045.[47]

Our climate: Sustainable resource use is key to tackling climate change and will be vital for other sectors to deliver their own net zero goals. Maximising the life of useful products and materials reduces mining and extraction practices associated with virgin extraction. The Scottish Government has set climate change ambitions to become a net zero greenhouse gas emitting nation by 2045[48]. We have committed to doing this in a way that is just and fair for all people across Scotland. Although the waste management sector only directly accounts for around 4% of total Scottish greenhouse gas emissions, we know we must also take responsibility for our global carbon footprint associated with the goods and services we import[49].

Our economy: Opening up new market opportunities, improving productivity, and increasing self-sufficiency and resilience by reducing reliance on international supply chains and global shocks. Our waste reduction and recycling outcomes support progress towards the National Performance Framework outcome for the economy, and our strategy for economic transformation[50] recognises that the circular economy represents an enormous economic and industrial opportunity for Scotland as part of this transformation.

Our society: Strengthening communities by providing local employment opportunities and lower cost options to access the goods Scotland needs. As we continue to face economic challenges, the rapid, just transition to a more circular economy, is needed more than ever. The transition to a circular economy is challenging, but is a major opportunity to transform our economy, our communities and our lives for the better.

Our role in the world: Sustainable consumption and production are essential for Scotland’s just transition to a net zero, nature positive economy, but they also alleviate pressures on the natural world and its finite resources globally: Reducing the demand for raw materials and keeping materials in use as high up the waste hierarchy and for as long as possible. This can directly help Scotland meet its obligations to tackle the twin climate and nature emergencies through a just transition, showing genuine climate leadership and playing our full part on the global stage.

Our approach

3.1 Our strategic aims

Measures in chapter two are grouped under four strategic aims, which reflect the span of the waste hierarchy. These strategic aims are outlined in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: The Scottish Government’s vision and strategic aims for a circular economy

More information about each strategic aim and its objectives is outlined in Chapter 2, but in summary they cover the following:

Reduce and reuse: Reducing waste and reusing resources are the top 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 brings significant environmental benefits. Measures aim to promote responsible consumption, production and re-use, while outlining pathways to reduce waste, particularly food waste, and embedding circular construction practices.

Modernise recycling: Increasing the amount of materials recycled and increasing the proportion of these recycled in Scotland will deliver emission reductions, reduce the environmental impacts associated with extracting new raw materials, and create a range of important economic opportunities to reprocess and reuse materials. Measures aim to improve recycling from households and commercial businesses.

Decarbonise disposal: While our focus is to prevent materials from becoming waste in the first place, 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.

Strengthen the circular economy: We must maintain a strategic approach to the delivery of a circular economy, ensuring the right structures and support are in place to enable action across the economy, robustly monitoring and evaluating progress.

3.2 Our approach

Throughout the development of the Route Map, from early pre-consultation engagement in 2021 onwards, our approach has been underpinned by five guiding principles that have shaped its vision, aims and priorities, and will guide its implementation.

We take a whole system approach.The way that material flows around the economy is complicated and influenced by everyone in the supply chain. We consider the whole system – including our global 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. This is vital for delivery of measures, and we draw out the interdependencies and cross-cutting themes spanning our priority actions throughout this document. This includes 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 are ambitious and agile.No country has yet identified a long-term pathway to achieving zero waste and a circular economy. We must be brave and bold, learn by doing, and be agile. We must consider actions that have the potential to drive future change, even if they are not ready yet, and therefore set out a range of actions at different levels of development.

We are evidence driven.Not all the answers are known at this stage. We are led by a clear evidence-driven approach that underpins our priority actions and investments. In the first consultation we identified a number of areas where further evidence was required, and we have published new research alongside this draft Route Map to address these priorities. This is an approach we will continue to take: areas for further research, and some of the barriers to overcome, are highlighted in this document as part of implementation of our priority actions.

We are fair and inclusive.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. This is directly contributing to the Scottish Government’s national mission to tackle poverty and protect people from harm.[51] A Just Transition is key to this, planning for our future circular economy. This includes considering opportunities for training/re-training and employment through the transition to a circular economy, and a more sustainable material footprint; and through the creation of markets and processes for used materials. Increased reuse requires significant expansion of premises for collection, storage, and retail; as well as green skills expansion. In providing skills and employment, it can enable economic growth at local and national levels, supporting economic transformation.

Everyone must play their part.Achieving our waste, recycling and wider emissions reduction objectives is a shared endeavour. We know a circular economy can only be delivered through a “Team Scotland” approach, defined by consensus, collaboration and co-design. Collaboration and partnership have been critical to our progress so far, and we can only be successful if everyone plays their part – government, households, communities, charities and businesses. Our approach will be guided by both the Verity House Agreement[52] and New Deal for Business Group’s recommendations and implementation plan[53].

3.3 Feasibility, affordability, impact

As part of the process for defining priority and further actions through the Route Map, we have also considered measures alongside key criteria to determine what our priorities should be:

  • Feasible: Is the measure deliverable, does it fit well with the local, regional and/or national context, do we have the evidence, data and resources required to shape plans to deliver it effectively. This includes considering feedback from any stakeholder engagement and public consultation.
  • Financially positive: Measures may have a positive impact on the finances of some or all actors: For example, through a reduction in waste to be managed; providing local employment opportunities and lower cost options to access the goods Scotland needs; reduced costs associated with littering; and maximising the value of material for recycling. Where they have a cost they must be affordable, for households, communities, businesses and to Government and the wider public sector. We aim to plan for the delivery of priority measures, and look to reflect that in capital and revenue projections.
  • High impact: Will the measure deliver impact against our objectives, either directly, or indirectly by enabling progress through other priority or follow-up measures across the waste hierarchy. Impact can be defined as supporting emissions reduction and tackling nature loss, progress against our existing waste and recycling objectives, wider environmental, economic and social benefits or costs, or enabling effective monitoring and evaluation of our progress.

3.4 Cross-cutting themes

There are several key cross-cutting themes, which underpin the actions and transformation we need to deliver. These themes are highlighted throughout Chapter 2, and include:

  • Behaviour change: Urgent, system-wide change is required if we are to achieve our ambitions. The first consultation set out the diverse range of incentives that impact our decisions and behaviour; proposed measures build on this, and look strategically across the waste hierarchy at embedding positive behaviour change.
  • Data and evidence: Improvements in understandings of materials flows, availability and quality of data will be crucial to achieve significant impacts across the resources and waste system.
  • Infrastructure: Identifying what future strategic infrastructure requirements will be, both in Scotland as a whole and on a place-based basis for local needs, linked to National Planning Framework 4[54]. This ranges from reuse capacity, through to local recycling, domestic reprocessing and residual waste management infrastructure.
  • Legislative framework: In order to support the transition to a circular economy, Scotland needs the right legislative framework to make the right choices the easy choices for actors across our economy and society. An example would be the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill[55], which contains provisions that require primary legislation to underpin Scotland’s transition to a circular economy.

3.5 Assessing impacts

We are committed to assessing the wider impact of proposals, including the potential impacts on equality, socio-economic considerations, island communities, business and regulation, and the environment. This is in accordance with our legislative requirements and, importantly, to inform the policy development and implementation process. High-level partial and screening impact assessments have been developed and updated to accompany the Route Map, and feedback through consultations will help inform future impact assessments for specific interventions, as required. For example, measures may need to further consider individual and cumulative impacts on the environment, public spending, the cost to business including small and medium-sized enterprises, consumer choice and affordability, equality, socio-economic and island communities impacts.

We recognise that, where appropriate, individual measures set out in the draft Route Map may be subject to further public consultation, for example where secondary legislation is needed.

3.6 Working with the UK governments

As a devolved nation, we have set out our clear commitment to seek to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards[56], where appropriate. We are taking action on policy measures that lie within devolved competence. However, we recognise that many powers relating to the circular economy are reserved, and that the production of our products, services and materials involve supply chains that go beyond Scotland, spanning the UK, European Union, and the globe.

The Scottish Government works constructively with the other UK governments on key measures where our interests are aligned and it makes sense to do so. We continue to work within the Common Frameworks to manage potential policy divergence as well as where policies can align. For example, to deliver a fully effective Scottish ban on certain single-use plastics in 2022, and to implement UK-wide Packaging Extended Producer Responsibility from 2025.[57]

While environmental policy, including waste management, is devolved to Scotland, the post-Brexit Internal Market Act 2020 could prevent effective measures from being implemented in Scotland. Should an exclusion from the Act be required for measures within this Route Map, we will follow the agreed Common Framework process, and would expect the UK government to do the same.

It is also clear that many areas to drive more rapid progress require further action from the UK Government. Given the immense challenges we collectively face, up to this point, greater ambition and pace from the UK Government is required on a host of areas that would unlock circular economy and emission reduction progress across the UK’s nations. This was reinforced by the Climate Change Committee’s 2023 emission reduction progress report for the UK, highlighting a “lack of urgency”.[58] We will continue to call on others, including the UK Government, where we need to see further progress. 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.



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