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Scotland steps out on the circular path

When I spoke to MRW in a Big Interview in November 2013, I said that Scotland, as an independent member state of Europe, had a fantastic opportunity to become a beacon of environmentalism. In a little over six weeks’ time, the people of Scotland will have the opportunity to seize that future. 

Last month the EU published a new circular economy package, a first step at paving the way towards a system where we keep materials in higher value use for longer, and promote innovation and employment along the way.

We are well on this road in Scotland, and it is rewarding to see so many of the themes we have been advocating now reflected in EU thinking. Our waste prevention programme, ‘Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources’ takes us beyond diversion from landfill and recycling, and further into reuse, recovery and remanufacturing. We are already demonstrating we are well-aligned to the EU’s new policy agenda, with our own 70% target for recycling of all waste by 2025.

In setting clear and progressive policies, we are creating space for innovation and giving confidence to long term investment decisions. We have resource management firm Viridor planning a cutting-edge facility for processing mixed glass to a quality where it can go back into our whisky bottling industry; and innovators like Dryden Aqua who use green glass cullet, which isn’t wanted in as large volumes as clear glass by our whisky bottlers, to create a water filtration medium which can help save lives in the developing world. Both are creating sustainable green jobs for our economy.

The challenge for Europe is to utilise mainstream waste policy as a means to deliver a circular economy. We need strong, long term vision which encourages investment, challenges behaviours and inspires new business models, with a solid supporting regulatory and policy framework. And on this, national and local government in Scotland are on the same page. In March, the Scottish Government finance secretary John Swinney and I convened a Zero Waste Taskforce with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, where we agreed a package of work to identify and deliver the opportunities and benefits of a circular economy for Scotland’s communities.

Last November, I signalled to MRW a number of new initiatives on the way. As of January 2014, Scotland’s new waste regulations have required the separation of metals, plastics, glass, paper and card for collection, helping to stimulate new markets for high value materials. Our litter strategy, published in June, aims to keep materials out of the waste stream; we now have higher fixed penalty notices for littering (£80) and a new charging scheme for single use carrier bags will come into effect from October.

Internationally, our work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, where Scotland was the first nation to join the Circular Economy 100 network, is bringing together leading companies and emerging innovators to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. Zero Waste Scotland hosted an event at EU Green Week recently showcasing our integrated approach to resource efficiency. I was struck both by how much Scotland has in common with the ambition of those Member States at the forefront of a circular economy, and the scope to share experience with and support new Member States on the path towards sustainable resource management.

None of this is easy. It requires conviction, commitment and collaboration and we need to work closely with the EU to ensure that the measures in its ambitious package are the right ones. But I am determined that Scotland be at the forefront of a transition to a circular economy in Europe, and I am frustrated that our ambition is constrained by a UK Government that has stagnated on this agenda.

Earlier this year I set out the five green gains that the opportunities of independence could bring for the environment. We can place the environment at the heart of a written constitution. We can have a nuclear free Scotland. We will have access to the support and funding we need to support a healthy environment. We will have a stronger voice on the global stage. And of course we will be represented in the EU and have the opportunity to drive the agenda.

By the time scrutiny of the EU circular economy package gets into full flow, the people of Scotland will have had their say on what the future holds.  And I look forward to the day when the Environment Secretary of a successful, sustainable, independent Scotland can sit at the EU negotiating table in their own right, well on their way to positioning Scotland as a beacon of environmentalism in Europe.

Richard Lochhead is the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment

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