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Harnessing the value of collected materials

Since its formation, Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) has had a strong commitment to increasing recycling rates.

The national recycling rate has increased from less than 4% in 2004 to more than 41% now. We have seen recycling of materials such as paper, glass and plastic become a matter of habit for many householders and businesses, and even food waste recycling – an activity once restricted to those with their own home compost bin – become commonplace.

In fact, 1.3 million households in Scotland now have access to a food waste recycling service, with more rollouts to take place during the next 18 months. The statistics speak for themselves: Scots are recycling more than ever before, at home, at work and even when out and about.

At the beginning of this year, the Scottish Government introduced the Waste (Scotland) Regulations, signalling perhaps the most significant driver for this change so far. The regulations aim to give the growing trend for recycling a further boost, making it compulsory for all businesses and organisations to separate key materials for recycling.

Local authorities are also required to provide a basic recycling service to all residents covering key materials. As the regulations are very much in their infancy, we have still to see their full effect. But initial indications are positive, with anecdotal feedback from resource management companies seeing an increase in volume and business customer numbers.

But our ambitions do not stop with the requirement to recycle. The real benefit we can get is in harnessing the value of materials, prioritising the separate collection to maximise quality and ensuring that they stay in our economy for processing.

Crucial to this is attracting investment into Scotland. New reprocessing infrastructure and innovation are needed to make this difference. Our new regulations are designed to drive a supply of quality materials, but it is essential that the demand exists as well. As well as providing support to businesses and organisations who want to invest, ZWS can also provide funding in many instances, such as the £3.8m Scottish Recycling Fund.

The ultimate goal here is to inspire a change in mindset to one where materials previously thought of as ‘waste’ are realised for their true value and the benefit they can provide to Scotland’s economy.

This change in mindset pushes beyond the idea of recycling rates as the traditional indicator of performance. It is coupled with our world-leading Carbon Metric – designed by the Scottish Government, ZWS and Sepa in consultation with stakeholders – which measures the total effect of our resources whether they are disposed of, recycled, reused or even reduced in the first place.

This shift in direction can inspire change in the way we design, produce and consume goods. Embracing the idea of a circular economy creates beneficial opportunities for Scotland’s economy, which is why ZWS is working to embed circular economy approaches in future business models, adapting the basic principles to work for key industries.

Running parallel to this is a need to change consumer attitudes. Work is being done to raise consumer awareness of these issues in well-established areas such as food waste and in new areas like litter. For the latter, we are working alongside the Scottish Government to get the message over to the public that litter is simply waste in the wrong place, and would be worth more than £1m if it was recycled.

Globally, we are starting to see this shift from thinking about recycling performance in isolation, to considering it as part of a wider move towards resource efficiency and circular thinking. Scotland is proud to be leading the way in circular economy development, which is reflected in the recently announced proposals from the European Commission which echo our Zero Waste Plan.

But ZWS recognises that the journey has just begun, and there is still much progress to make. We look forward to this journey, and to working with key stakeholders to ensure the country’s ambitions are realised.

By Iain Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland

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