Securing a green recovery on a path to net zero: climate change plan 2018–2032 - update

This update to Scotland's 2018-2032 Climate Change Plan sets out the Scottish Government's pathway to our new and ambitious targets set by the Climate Change Act 2019. It is a key strategic document on our green recovery from COVID-19.

Chapter 5 Waste and the Circular Economy - 3.5. Waste and the Circular Economy


3.5.1 Scotland’s progress in reducing emissions in the waste and resources sector over the past 20 years has been striking. Recycling is now a more established part of our everyday life, and we recycle over 60% of Scotland’s waste. The amount of waste going to landfill in Scotland is at its lowest since records began. In 2018, waste and resources sector emissions were over 70% lower than in 1998.

3.5.2 However, we still have a significant challenge ahead in order to meet our ambitious emissions reduction targets. Emissions in the sector are currently around 1.9 megatonnes per year; our aim is to reduce these emissions to 1.2 megatonnes by 2025, and 0.8 megatonnes by 2030. Achieving these milestones will require meeting our ambitious waste reduction and recycling targets, including: ending landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste and significantly reducing food waste; accelerating efforts to address legacy emissions from closed landfill sites; and ensuring a more rapid transition to a fully circular economy in Scotland. This process will require radical and transformational changes, and we will work with partners to ensure that these changes are delivered in a managed and just way.

New context

3.5.3 The COVID-19 crisis has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on the waste and resources sector. These impacts have been felt differently across the sector, with changes in business leading to reduced demand for commercial collections, as well as reduced quantities of materials for sorting and reprocessing; and changes in household behaviours affecting the volume and type of waste managed by local authority waste services.

3.5.4 It is too soon to understand the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our recycling targets in Scotland, and we are undertaking further work to explore this. There are some signs that consumer and business behaviour has reverted to a preference for single use/disposable items, which in some cases has been a necessary step to prevent transmission of the virus. On the other hand, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reported that, from a survey conducted in April 2020, households in the UK managed their food better under “lockdown”, with reduced food waste[120].

3.5.5 As a result of the pandemic’s impact on our legislative agenda, we took the difficult decision to delay introduction of our Circular Economy Bill. However, we remain committed to achieving circular economy outcomes and will continue to work with stakeholders to pursue these.

Green Recovery and just transition

3.5.6 As we move towards our recovery from the pandemic, we need to support consumers and businesses to make sustainable choices, to adapt business models and to maintain positive behaviour changes. Our priorities include preventing waste by encouraging more sustainable product design, reducing consumption of single-use items, promoting reuse of products, and enhancing our recycling infrastructure. We also have an opportunity for renewed impetus in building a fully circular economy in Scotland which will drive materials up the waste hierarchy and keep them in high value use for as long as possible. This will also stimulate job creation: research has shown that 10,000 tonnes of waste can create 1 job in incineration, 6 jobs in landfill, 36 jobs in recycling or up to 296 jobs in repair and reuse[121].

Circular Economy

In our existing economy, we “take, make and dispose”. We take resources from the ground, air and water; we make them into products and structures; then we dispose of them. We need to move to a circular economy where we reduce the demand for raw material in products; encourage reuse and repairs through responsible production; and recycle waste and energy to maximise the value of any waste that is generated.

The circular economy represents an enormous economic and industrial opportunity for Scotland and contributes directly to a green recovery. It tackles emissions through influencing product design, manufacturing and waste and resource management, and is a vital part of sectors delivering their net zero aspirations. It can improve productivity and open up new markets, while also benefiting workers and communities by providing local employment and lower priced goods. A circular economy also contributes to a range of UN Sustainable Development Goals, including ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.

3.5.7 As has been recommended by a number of stakeholders, including the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, the Decoupling Advisory Group and Scottish Environment Link, we will embed circular economy principles into our wider green recovery, prioritising areas with the biggest opportunities: construction; agriculture/food and drink; energy and renewables; procurement; skills and education; and plastics.

3.5.8 Our approach to delivering a circular economy must be inclusive. We will consider the potential impacts on different consumer groups, in order to identify any barriers to fair access and ability to adopt new circular economy practices.

Positive vision for 2032 and 2045

3.5.9 By 2032 (and before) we will have the tools in place to equip individuals, businesses and organisations to make a fundamental shift in how we use and re-use materials. We will be well on track to embedding a fully circular economy approach, which is designed to reduce, reuse, repair and recycle. Recycling will be a much simpler option for households, with clear product labelling, effective communication, enhanced collection infrastructure, and more consistent approaches to recycling across Scotland.

3.5.10 By 2045, as well as improving our position in the global market, we will produce many more goods that are bought, used and regenerated or recycled right here in Scotland. This is just one of the many reasons why we will have moved completely from a ‘take, make and dispose’ linear economy to a fully circular economy. Our vision is that by 2045 Scotland’s cultural, social and business norms will be driven by a focus on:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Maximising Value from Waste and Energy, where the environmental and economic value of wasted resources and energy is harnessed efficiently.
Waste Hierarchy
Waste hierarchy, demonstrating the Scottish Government's priorities for actions to tackle waste, promoting prevention, reuse, recycle and value recovery, in preference to disposal.
Emissions Reduction Pathway to 2032
The target-consistent emissions-reduction pathway for the waste sector to 2032

Route Map to 2032


Consultation on banning priority single use items.


Consultation on a charge on single use disposable beverage cups and legislation to increase the carrier bag minimum charge from 5p to 10p.

Legislation to restrict supply of specified single use plastic items introduced.

Increased support for consumers and householders to promote responsible consumption (e.g. in relation to reducing food waste, and tackling throwaway culture).

Consultation on electronic waste tracking.

Consultation on mandatory reporting of Scotland’s food surplus and waste by food businesses, and a mandatory national food waste reduction target. Consultation on the current rural exemption and food separation requirements for food waste collections.

£70 million fund to improve local authority recycling collection infrastructure established.

Climate considerations embedded into public sector organisational procurement strategies.


Implementation of our Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for single use drinks containers.


Bio-waste (e.g. garden waste) is either separated and recycled at source, or is collected separately and is not mixed with other types of waste.


Number of landfill gas capture sites that undertake investigative or development work doubled.

Separate collection of textiles, in line with EU requirements.

Food waste reduced by 33% from the 2013 baseline.

70% of all waste recycled.

Landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste has ended.

The actions we are taking

Building the Circular Economy

3.5.11 We are boosting our commitment to building a circular economy, where goods and materials are kept in use for longer by embedding circular economy principles in the wider green recovery. Through Zero Waste Scotland and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), we will intensify our work with industry and businesses to address emissions associated with production, consumption and waste of products/resources, and to promote resource efficiency. Zero Waste Scotland will also continue to develop tools and resources for education at all levels.

3.5.12 Through our work on the fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) we will update our planning policies to reflect the new opportunities arising from a shift towards a circular economy. Planning can support development which reflects the waste hierarchy, prioritising the reduction and reuse of materials, and helping to facilitate the delivery of new infrastructure required to achieve this.

Driving down food waste

3.5.13 We have boosted our efforts to tackle food waste by leading collaborative efforts to deliver Scotland’s landmark Food Waste Reduction Action Plan, supported by Zero Waste Scotland, in order to help deliver our ambitious target to reduce food waste by one third against a 2013 baseline by 2025[122].

3.5.14 This will involve improving our monitoring and infrastructure by considering a mandatory national food waste reduction target and mandatory reporting of Scotland’s food surplus and waste by food businesses. We will also break down barriers to food recycling by consulting on the current rural exemption and food separation requirements for food waste collections.

3.5.15 We will work closely with the public and private sectors, promoting leadership, innovation, and effectiveness in waste reduction and recycling. For example, we will support the development and implementation of an NHS Scotland national action plan on food waste. In partnership with Zero Waste Scotland, we will also carry out a sustained approach to public engagement and communications to enable the public to make sustainable choices around food and food waste.

Reducing waste sent to landfill

3.5.16 We will end landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste by 2025, reduce the percentage of all waste sent to landfill to 5% by 2025 and recycle 70% of all waste by 2025. We will develop a route map to outline how we will deliver our waste and recycling targets in a way that maximises carbon saving potential[123].

3.5.17 We have committed significant investments to deliver on these targets, including £70 million to improve local recycling collection infrastructure. We have also committed to work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in the coming year to evaluate the Household Recycling Charter and review its Code of Practice as key steps in developing a future model of recycling collections that promotes high quality recycling and helps make the right choices easier for householders[124].

3.5.18 In line with EU Commission’s Circular Economy Package, we will also consult on requirements to separately collect garden waste (by 2023), textiles and hazardous elements of household waste (by 2025). These measures have the potential to further promote reuse and recycling[125].

3.5.19 In response to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC’s) latest recommendations, it is our intention to extend the forthcoming ban on sending biodegradable municipal waste to landfill to include biodegradable non-municipal wastes, subject to appropriate consultation and work to provide assurance around some specific waste streams.

Improving waste data

3.5.20 We will take steps to improve waste data by working with the UK Government, other devolved governments, and agencies such as SEPA, to develop and implement the electronic waste tracking system; and we will provide additional funding to support implementation in Scotland. This step change in the quality and timeliness of waste data will support decision-making and underpin the key building blocks required to reduce emissions and drive delivery on existing waste and recycling targets[126].

Reducing emissions from closed landfill sites

3.5.21 We will accelerate our landfill gas capture and landfill legacy management. Working closely with SEPA and waste operators, we will scale up the existing landfill gas capture programme to mitigate the negative effects of landfill and the environmental impact of closed landfill sites[127].

3.5.22 We will double the number of landfill gas capture sites in Scotland that undertake investigative or development work (from 12 to 24 sites) by 2025 and will provide additional funding to support this. This will harness the energy generated from landfill gas capture and maximise circular economy opportunities.

Promoting efficiency of energy from waste plants

3.5.23 In line with the waste hierarchy, our primary focus is on preventing waste and promoting the reuse of materials. However, we still need capacity to dispose of residual waste while we make the transition to a circular economy. In the context of the latest CCC recommendations and building on progress already made by the sector, we will consider measures to ensure new energy from waste plants are more efficient and how waste infrastructure can be ‘future-proofed’ for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Encouraging reprocessing investment

3.5.24 We have a new action to work with local authorities and the future Deposit Return Scheme administrator(s) to explore options that will unlock reprocessing investments, including pricing and incentive schemes, to create jobs and a ready supply of recycled material for new packaging[128].

Preventing waste

3.5.25 Banning problematic single use items: We are currently consulting on banning a number of problematic single-use plastic items, such as straws and cutlery, identified in the EU’s Single Use Plastics Directive, with a view to introducing legislation in 2021, and considering how we will give effect to the wider requirements of the Directive[129].

3.5.26 Packaging reform: We will continue to work with the UK Government and other devolved administrations on reforms to the packaging extended producer responsibility regime, which we expect will deliver improved funding for local authorities in the future[130].

3.5.27 Environmental charging: We will introduce measures to encourage people to shift toward reusable products and to encourage more sustainable consumption, for example, we will take further steps to consult on a charge on single use disposable beverage cups and will introduce legislation to increase the carrier bag minimum charge from 5p to 10p in this parliamentary session[131]. In recent public research, we found that these kinds of measures are supported by 82% of the public.

3.5.28 Several of the measures outlined in this plan are intended to increase fiscal incentives for producers and consumers to reduce waste and move up the waste hierarchy. Examples include the Deposit Return Scheme, reform of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and our proposal to introduce a charge on single use beverage cups. However, if we are to meet our ambitious targets for 2025 and beyond, then further, and likely more far-reaching fiscal incentives will be needed, alongside the other policy interventions set out in this chapter. As part of our work to develop a route map to 2025, we will therefore undertake a specific and focused piece of work to examine the range of fiscal measures used by other countries to incentivise positive behaviours and to develop proposals to go further in this area.

3.5.29 We recognise that significant and more radical transformational changes will be required in this area if we are to meet our targets in 2025 and beyond. Therefore, we will work with partners to develop a post-2025 route map to identify how the waste and resources sector will contribute towards Scotland’s journey towards net zero in the period to 2030 and beyond.

Our call to others

The UK Government

3.5.30 The Scottish Government is taking action on policy measures that lie within devolved competence, but some of the policy measures required to drive the transition to a fully circular economy are dependent upon UK Government action. The CCC’s December 2019 progress report made clear that UK Government policy ambition did not match that of the Scottish Government, and challenged the UK Government to “step up” in areas where key powers are reserved. The CCC’s latest Scottish Progress report notes that the UK Government has only delivered one of the CCC’s 16 key reserved policies that unlock action in Scotland.

3.5.31 We are already working with the UK Government and other Devolved Administrations on reform of the packaging producer responsibility system to reduce waste and boost recycling. This is key to both encouraging sustainable packaging design and to providing funding for more effective collection services.

3.5.32 We welcome the UK Government’s plans to introduce a ‘plastics tax’ to incentivise the use of recycled content in plastic packaging. However, there are a number of key areas that require futher UK Government action. For example, we call on the UK Government to: introduce new fiscal measures to influence behaviour; reduce consumption of unsustainable material; boost the competitiveness of recycled materials; and bring forward measures to influence global markets and reduce imported emissions.

Scottish public sector organisations

3.5.33 Public sector leadership is vital to achieving our emissions reduction targets in the waste and resources sector. We are therefore working with the public sector to embed circular economy principles into their procurement strategies, and to accelerate reduction and recycling of waste. Examples include the forthcoming 2025 ban on landfilling biodegradable municipal waste.

3.5.34 Food waste is a significant contributor to emissions that come from the public sector, and our Food Waste Reduction Action Plan[132], published in 2019, highlights the need for our public sector to reduce food waste throughout its buildings and services. Key agencies, including SEPA and Food Standards Scotland, will provide the regulatory oversight, support, and infrastructure to drive change and help deliver Scotland’s food waste targets.

3.5.35 SEPA have a vital role to play in supporting the future decarbonisation of the waste and resources sector in Scotland. SEPA work with all sectors to ensure compliance with waste regulation, whether that be on pollution prevention, producer responsibility, waste exports or landfill tax. We will continue to support SEPA with the appropriate funding and support it needs to fulfil its aims.

3.5.36 We are also working closely with Scottish Water, who have huge potential for renewable energy generation and energy efficiency, including in the waste water treatment network. For example, over the last 5 years Scottish Water has delivered 19 GWh p.a. of energy efficiency and aims to deliver a further 20% improvement. Scottish Water’s ambitious Net Zero Route Map includes a wide range of action to minimise emissions across all aspects of its activities to meet, and go beyond, their target of net zero emissions by 2040[133].

3.5.37 We also expect Scottish Water to continue to invest heavily in modernising the waste water treatment capability across Scotland and to deliver additional heat from sewers projects, building on those already in place.

Scottish businesses and industry

3.5.38 The second largest sector source of food waste is Food & Drink Manufacturing (25%)[134]. Reducing this will involve transformative change in business practice throughout the food supply chain. The Scottish Government’s Food Waste Reduction Action Plan highlights the need for the Scottish food and drink industry to show leadership and drive innovation to reduce waste throughout the supply chain, as well as to drive changes in labelling and in food businesses’ corporate behaviour.

3.5.39 The Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland provide a range of advice and business support to promote the adoption of circular economy practices and to support innovation. Many businesses are doing so already through a range of voluntary initiatives, including the UK Plastics Pact and the Courtauld 2025 Commitment on food waste, both of which the Scottish Government is a signatory of. The Circular Economy Investment Fund is the most high profile of the Scottish Government’s financial support measures, and we will continue to ensure the right strategic interventions are in place to provide maximum economic and emissions reductions benefits in the future.

3.5.40 Key priorities for businesses and industry include:

  • continuing to actively increase waste prevention as well as reuse and recovery rates by rethinking operations, diversifying businesses and supporting innovation;
  • putting in place alternative treatment solutions for residual waste in order to deliver the forthcoming ban on biodegradable municipal waste to landfill by no later than 2025;
  • scaling up existing landfill gas capture measures to mitigate the negative effects of landfill and the environmental impact of closed landfill sites;
  • taking further steps to maximise efficiency of energy from waste plants and considering how infrastructure can be ‘future proofed’ for CCS technology; and
  • ensuring that the waste supply chain supports a circular economy by reusing where possible and only landfilling waste that has reached the end of its life.


3.5.41 The largest sector source of food waste in Scotland is Household & Consumer (61%)[135]. In 2014, Scottish households threw away around 600,000 tonnes of food and drink waste. Household food waste alone accounts for 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions; this is 2.1% of Scotland’s carbon footprint[136].

3.5.42 To support and enable required behaviour change, we will deliver a sustained programme of communications designed to raise people’s awareness and understanding of food waste, including a second phase of our marketing campaign planned for 2021.

3.5.43 We encourage people in Scotland to purchase products and services in ways which respect the limits of our natural resources; to see unnecessary waste, in particular avoidable food waste, as unacceptable; and to embed reuse and recycling into everyday behaviours. We regularly engage with the public to understand attitudes towards waste, as we seek to help make the right choices easier for householders[137].

3.5.44 As we recover from COVID-19, we will support consumers to make positive decisions to tackle climate change and make sustainable choices, where possible. For example, we will: encourage the use of washable, reusable face coverings and a move from ‘fast fashion’ clothing choices more generally; implement the deposit return scheme; improve local authority recycling collection infrastructure; and consult on a charge on single use disposable beverage cups.

International engagement

3.5.45 An estimated four fifths of global climate emissions are currently linked to the production, consumption and waste of products and resources. The importance of promoting a circular economy is therefore a global challenge. Many of the products that Scotland consumes are produced overseas and imported, emphasising the importance of waste reduction if we are to reduce Scotland’s global resource/emissions footprint as well as domestic emissions. There is a risk of ‘offshoring’ a significant proportion of Scotland’s waste emissions given that they are not accounted for under our own greenhouse gas inventory.

3.5.46 A number of EU frameworks and Directives are directly relevant to Scotland, including EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP) which introduces a revised legislative framework on waste, establishing an ambitious and credible long-term path for waste management and recycling. In March the European Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan, which contains a number of initiatives for the lifecycle of products, including waste reduction, consumption, repair, reuse, recycling, and bringing resources back into the economy[138]. As outlined in the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Government is committed to maintaining or exceeding EU environmental standards after we leave the EU[139].



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