Scotland: Standing on the cusp of change

Written by: Recycling Waste World | Published:

There was an energised feel in the air at Glasgow last month, as industry leaders North of the border mapped out their future intentions for waste and resources policy at the annual Scottish Resources conference. Freelance writer Maxine Perella reports.

The theme of the two-day Scottish Resources conference, co-hosted by Zero Waste Scotland and CIWM, was ‘Evolution or Revolution?’ suggesting that Scotland is minded to the scale of the challenge ahead if it wants to deliver on its zero waste ambitions - a challenge that may well require robust government intervention on some fronts, writes freelance writer, Maxine Perella. 

Two key announcements were made by Scottish environment secretary Richard Lochhead at the event; these comprised investment to the tune of £1.3m to set up a Scottish Institute for Remanufacture, and the development of a Scottish materials brokerage service for local authorities. Both initiatives are significant in that they target value recapture from both products and recycled materials, and will serve as practical stepping stones to the Scottish government’s wider circular economy drive.

Scotland was one of the first regions to sign up to the Circular Economy 100 - a global platform led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), which brings together leading companies, emerging innovators and regions to accelerate this transition. Speaking at the event, EMF’s Sandy Rodger welcomed the launch of the remanufacturing hub and said it represented “an opportunity for the rebirth of manufacturing [in Scotland]”.

“The circular economy is not a game of Solitaire,” he told delegates. “You cannot change it by yourself. It’s all about collaboration.” He added: “Like any change, you have to work your way up - so at the start it’s hard, and then it gets easier. At this stage, we need people who are leaders. We see Scotland taking the lead, it’s really inspiring.”

Addressing the audience during his keynote speech, Lochhead told delegates that in terms of safeguarding the country’s natural resources, there was still much to be done. “The default approach worldwide is to burn, bury or down-cycle our resources. There has to be another way of doing things. Our approach in Scotland is more ambitious than the rest of the UK … but there are areas where we need to up our game in radical ways.”

A disappointing national recycling rate

Reflecting on the recycling rates of Scotland’s 32 councils, Lochhead said that some of the best performing authorities were now achieving 60% or more, but felt the national rate of 42% was “pretty disappointing”. 

He added that the new materials brokerage service, combined with the waste regulations introduced back in January, would help cement a more robust materials infrastructure base for Scotland’s future.

The minister was keen to underline the government’s commitment to the circular economy. The new remanufacturing hub - a UK first - is evidence of this, as remanufacturing is considered a more high value resource loop than recycling (which often downgrades materials). 

Stressing that the circular economy was “not just a rebranding of waste management,” Lochhead called the case for it “irresistible”.

“We are looking at how to support the deep case for innovation for the circular economy in Scotland. There is a compelling case for more [devolved] powers for Scotland in this area,” he told delegates, hinting that this could include greater powers over product design, for example. 

Lochhead ended his talk by revealing that his department was working on a circular economy roadmap, which should draw all of this thinking together and set out a clearer framework for the sector to work towards.

National aspirational standard

Such moves were welcomed by one of the industry’s leading players, Ian McAulay, chief executi

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