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Scotland’s steps towards zero waste

Robin Stevenson

While the Scottish waste, recycling and resource management market has had its challenges during 2016, there remain some significant opportunities as we continue on our journey to zero waste and a more resource-efficient economy.

Compared with years, things have been fairly quiet in terms of legislation and policy, although we did see a couple of new developments. In January the threshold for which a separate collection of food waste is required was reduced to include businesses producing less than 5kg a week. This has not resulted in a significant increase in the tonnages collected, but this is perhaps not too surprising. We had (well in advance of the regulations) been promoting a separate food waste collection both to help control costs and also to improve the quality of the dry mixed recyclate that we collect.

Quality of recyclate is something that continues to present a challenge. Following the introduction of the Zero Waste Regulations in 2014 there was a noticeable increase in contamination. This was due in part to a focus on volumes of recycling and driving material out of the general waste. In recent months we have again started to noticed a slight rise in contamination of our dry mixed recyclate collections. The reasons are not clear and the brief period of time over which this has been observed means it might just be a ‘blip’. I do believe however that as a sector we must continue to beat the quality drum. The focus on increasing recycling volume and cutting general waste is great but not if it is to the detriment of the environmental and commercial value of the material we manage.

More broadly in relation to the Zero Waste Regulations I would still advocate a strengthening of enforcement albeit I recognise it must be proportionate. This is important both to ensure that we have a fair playing field and more importantly that we are able to realise the potential for improved materials management that this regulation intended.

2016 also saw the launch of Scotland’s Circular Economy Strategy – Making Things Last. While this didn’t include much that will change the way we collect and recycle waste, this has been adequately addressed in Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012. These set out requirements for the separate collection of key materials, including food waste, and prohibit any separately collected material going to incineration or landfill.

There are however a number of initiatives and reduction targets that will help Scotland meet its long-term objective to recycle 70% of all waste, and to send no more than 5% of all waste to landfill by 2025. Aligned to this we are involved with some exciting projects to develop more circular routes for the materials we manage including some innovative work in the construction sector with ISG, who are one of the most forward thinking and innovative companies when it comes to recycling and resource efficiency.

Looking forward I think it is vital that everyone in the sector works together to ensure that there is the confidence required to maintain a commercially viable Scottish export market. We work continuously to improve the quality of the material that we process at our Linwood MRF but we have to realise that a degree of contamination is always likely to occur. This does not present an issue to the international facilities that process the material. If we are not careful we will lose access to these international markets, which provide an environmentally sustainable and cost effective means of improving the way we manage these valuable resources.

Another area we will be looking to focus on in 2017 is harnessing the power of the technology and software we have invested in across our fleet, operations and back-office. We recognise technology’s ability to improve the efficiency of our collections and processing; improve service levels and provide accurate and current environmental data for our customers. This will play an important role in supporting the organic growth of our business in the coming years.

There is no doubt that some of the challenges highlighted here will take some time to overcome and the New Year will throw up some new hurdles of its own, I do feel that overall the Scottish recycling and resource management market is in a pretty good place. We have, over the past few years, invested in an impressive processing infrastructure and this coupled with a forward thinking policy and legislation will, I believe, help us on our journey to zero waste.

Robin Stevenson is managing director for non-hazardous waste at William Tracey Group

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