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How a circular economy can help Scotland Build Back Better

As we look to build back from the COVID-19 crisis, we have a unique opportunity to rethink the sort of society and economy we live and work in. 

Scotland needs a recovery that not only gets people and businesses back to work, but that also gives us the best possible chance of tackling the climate emergency.

We have to embrace this chance to build back better. Harnessing the following five circular economy opportunities will create more jobs and businesses by forging a new, green, robust economy in Scotland.

Around four fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods, materials and services which we produce, use and often throw out after just one use. About half of these are produced overseas in making the goods we import. If we’re going to tackle climate change, we need to tackle these consumption emissions too.

Using and reusing the materials we already have, from construction, to clothing to food waste, will significantly cut our emissions by reducing imports and making best use of our renewable energy. This circular economy approach will also provide more affordable access to essential goods and services, thereby contributing to the wellbeing of the nation.

To make all of this happen we must do more, differently.

 

Zero Waste Scotland’s five priorities for a green recovery

 

1. Use economic levers to incentivise the circular economy

The choices that governments make in the coming months will shape our economy for decades to come – those decisions must enable us to fight climate crisis not lock us in to business as usual.

To break the cycle of ‘make, take, and throw away’, we need to give businesses the right incentives and provide clarity that investing in the circular economy will be a smart choice. 

Introducing recycling, reuse and reprocessing credits, while ending subsidies for carbon intensive solutions, can shape the economy towards more circular means. We already know how successful the right incentives can be – the development of Scotland’s renewable energy capacity is testament to that.

Taxes should also reflect the carbon impact of economic activity so that it’s more cost effective to reuse, repair and recycle our goods than landfill or incinerate them.

 

2. Harness the power of public procurement

Public sector procurement is worth £11bn every year. At 10% of the entire Scottish economy, that’s a powerful lever for change. That power should be harnessed to drive the circular economy.

Integrating circular economy criteria into public and private procurement is an important enabling measure for transitioning to a more sustainable way of living and addressing the climate emergency. These criteria should promote services over ownership and prioritise reuse, repair and remanufacturing of assets.

Adopting circular principles within public procurement will generate market demand for Scottish businesses to develop and deliver circular products and services, while reducing our consumption of carbon intensive materials and products.

 

3. Create greater reprocessing capacity here in Scotland

Increasing domestic reprocessing is essential to unlocking the full potential of Scotland’s circular economy. 

Scotland recycled more than 60% of its waste in 2018 and wants to reach 70% by 2025. As great as this progress is, much of this material is exported for reprocessing abroad and with it goes many of the circular economy opportunities.

Having greater reprocessing capacity in Scotland will make Scotland’s economy more resilient. By reducing our reliance on importing valuable materials, we reduce our exposure to shocks from increasingly volatile global supply chains. 

Scotland needs to find ways to gain value from all its waste. By capturing 90% of single-use drinks containers for recycling, Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will increase the supply of PET plastic, glass and metals to the point that we hope to be able to create demand for domestic reprocessing.

We need to focus on capturing valuable materials, such as the rare earth materials required for wind turbines and computers, and repurposing them for high value applications before they are thrown into landfill or shipped abroad.

 

4. Embed the circular economy across skills and education

Scotland needs a workforce with the skills and education to design and deliver a circular economy.

Scotland is facing the highest level of unemployment in a generation – and young people are set to be hit the hardest. COVID-19 has already shown us how adaptable businesses can be. The circular economy offers huge employment opportunities and we need a workforce that’s ready to make the most of them.

It’s not just about making the most of the opportunities that exist – it’s also about fostering them. Creating more circular economy businesses will require people with the design and management skills to turn circular ideas into successful ventures.  

To ensure Scotland is creating and taking full advantage of the economic opportunities presented by the circular economy, it must become embedded across the entire educational system. From primary school, through secondary and universities, right on into lifelong learning and skills development, people must have the skills and expertise to create a greener, more circular economy.

 

5. Do things differently – and do them together

We need to do things differently if we are going to tackle the COVID-19 and climate crises.

The circular economy is an opportunity to approach problems differently. By looking at the whole production and consumption system of any product or material, it forces us to take a much wider view of how we use and reuse our natural resources. To get that wider view, you have to work across sectors and disciplines – that breadth of talent and expertise will give us a much better chance of creating solutions to the urgent problems we face.

This need for a system-wide approach is illustrated by our food system. Food waste is a major contributor to climate change. While recycling goes some way to mitigating against this, designing food waste out of the system requires adaptations from farm to plate and beyond.

Zero Waste Scotland has already shown how successful a collaborative approach can be with our work on circular economy cities and regions. By working with local academics, businesses and communities, we were able to identify circular economy opportunities in Edinburgh, North East Scotland, Tayside and Glasgow. That collaborative and community led approach has potential to deliver new economic opportunities across Scotland.

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