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Recycling rate falls in Scotland

Scotland’s recycling rate for materials from all sources in 2017 was 58.9%, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) statistics have shown, a slight decrease against 2016.

Organic waste recycled by composting or anaerobic digestion increased by 4.6% – equivalent to 158,000 tonnes – since 2016, while the quantity of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill fell to 1.09 million tonnes, which was a 0.05 million-tonne reduction.

Incineration with energy recovery increased by 14.7% to 760,000 tonnes over 2016, and landfill increased slightly to account for 32.6% of all waste managed, up by 0.1%.

Scotland produced 5.5% more waste in 2017 than the previous years so, while 142,195 more tonnes of waste was recycled, the recycling rate still fell to 58.9% from 59.1% in 2016.

Laura Tainsh, a partner in law firm Davidson Chalmers, said: “There is still confusion about what can be recycled and inconsistency but, in 2016, there was a lot of messaging about recycling by local authorities and that dropped off in 2017.

“Also in 2017, a number of councils changed collection frequencies and those things together may have led to the fall in the recycling rate.”

A Sepa spokesperson said: ”In 2017, the estimated Scottish waste from all sources recycled was 6.93 million tonnes, which is 142,195 tonnes (2.1%) more waste recycled than in 2016.

”A contributory factor to this difference is an increase in recycling of construction and demolition wastes such as soils.

”Excluding soils, there was a decrease in recycling of 92,709 tonnes (2.3%) from 2016, which included common sludges (decrease of 155,013 tonnes, 44.7%), glass wastes (decrease of 71,569 tonnes, 23.8%) and mineral wastes from waste treatment and stabilised wastes (decrease of 67,786 tonnes, 48.6%).”

A spokesperson for Scottish local authority body Cosla said: ”Scotland’s local authorities are working hard to improve recycling, in spite of shrinking resources, and actually recorded a recycling and composting rate of 45.6% in 2017, which represents an increase on 2016.”

Sepa chief executive Terry A’Hearn said: “The most successful countries in the 21st century will be resource-efficient, circular economies, where what once was waste is valued as a resource. As such, the latest figures give communities and businesses a fresh focus for the opportunity ahead.”

Scottish waste stats20162017

Recycling/composting and preparing for reuse of waste from all sources



Organic waste recycled by composting or anaerobic digestion

605, 614 tonnes

633, 629 tonnes

Biodegradable municipal waste landfilled

1.14 million tonnes

1.09 million tonnes

Waste recovered by incineration with energy recovery

663,925 tonnes

761,581 tonnes

Percentage of all waste sent to landfill



This story was updated on 27 March to include comment from Sepa and Cosla.

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