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Momentum grows for Scotland’s circular economy

Iain Gulland - Director, Zero Waste Scotland | 3 Jun 14

Green Week is the biggest annual conference on European environmental policy. This year’s themes are the Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency– so it’s naturally of particular interest to me.   

I am therefore thrilled that Zero Waste Scotland has been invited to exhibit at the conference in Brussels.  I have also been asked to bring our experiences to the European arena in a panel debate discussing how waste policy and legislation can bring us towards a circular economy.  I’m very much looking forward to a lively debate with my co-panellists on this issue.  

In addition, Zero Waste Scotland has teamed up with Scotland Europa to host an evening reception at Scotland House in central Brussels to share what we are doing to inspire change in Scotland’s resource economy and to forge new connections with European partners.

Establishing a circular economy in Scotland is essential if we are to ensure we are at the forefront of a new enlightenment for our use of resources.   There are clear wins to Scotland PLC in doing this, particularly through estimated financial gains, increased competitiveness, and business resilience.

But it’s important not to forget that the circular economy agenda is a macro-scale movement, as it needs to be if the fundamental shift the circular economy model proposes to the way we produce and consume goods is to truly take root.  There is so much we can learn from each other, and we want to build on our relationships with partners from Europe and around the globe, and to exchange ideas and good practice in order to collectively deliver better outcomes. Notably, this Thursday (5 June) also marks World Environment Day and the circular economy and resource efficiency, in my view, could make a great theme for this day of positive environmental action.

In preparing for Green Week 2014, I’ve been reflecting on how activities to support the development of a circular economy in Scotland are gathering pace.

It is fantastic to see this agenda building momentum, and that our work is forming a key part of it.     

Just last month we were amongst leading Scottish organisations to tell the Scottish Parliament that the circular economy is a major opportunity for Scotland’s future.  As I gave evidence to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment committee alongside likeminded representatives from Scottish Enterprise, Education Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, and SEPA, I was encouraged by the collaborative approach of our respective organisations – all of whom are working together to see a circular economy take hold in Scotland. It’s striking that all these organisations are united in an ambition to bring circularity to resource use in Scotland, and recognise the economic benefits and critical safeguarding it will bring to society in doing so.  

In tandem with this, initial research findings carried out on our behalf by Green Alliance, in partnership with key industries, has identified valuable opportunities to embed circular economy approaches in future business models.  

Green Alliance detailed some of these early findings recently in The Herald’s Platform column. Particularly, the opportunities to embed a more circular treatment of resources within the decommissioning of North Sea oil and gas infrastructure is a prime example of ways things can be done differently – to gain economic and environmental benefit.  

Sorting out rig metals into different alloys for separate recycling is a quick and easy win. Re-using materials directly in new construction, as happened with the Olympic stadium in London where surplus gas pipes were used in its structure, is an even better option. But a real circular economy approach would re-use motors, engines, valves and other industrial equipment back into the oil industry itself. Such re-use is quite common place in other sectors abroad such as construction and farming but this requires companies to know well in advance what is going to be made available so that buyers can be found and the market developed. 

So we are working closely with Decom North Sea (DNS) to help make these opportunities become a reality, and we recently held a joint event to engage with key industry stakeholders as a first step towards making this happen. It was great to see such strong engagement and support from a broad range of industry players who all hold a position to influence practical change.  There was clear commitment to set the circular economy model at the heart of future decommissioning activities 

Looking forward to Green Week and beyond, I am confident we will continue to identify more examples of how circular economy business models can be adapted across key industries in Scotland as the movement begins to take hold.

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