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Experts call for more attention on the carbon impact of waste as textiles top new report

Experts are calling on the people of Scotland to consider, and reduce, the variety of their household waste – after a 2020 report, published by Zero Waste Scotland, showed textiles, which made up just 4% of waste by weight, accounted for a startling 32% of Scotland’s carbon impact.

16 Feb 22

Zero Waste Scotland’s latest Carbon Metric report, published today, breaks down the types of household waste, ultimately showing that not all waste is equal.

The top five most carbon intensive materials wasted in Scotland, including paper, cardboard, plastic, textile, metal, animal and food waste, accounted for only 46% of all household waste tonnage in 2020 but made up for 83% of the carbon impacts.

Experts say this proves that householders should pay attention to what they waste, not just how much they produce. Everything we produce and buy – from flights to food and fashion to furnishings – incurs emissions and adds to Scotland’s carbon footprint. Some products are more carbon intensive than others depending on how they are made, used and disposed of.

The Scottish Carbon Metric report is a ground-breaking tool developed by Zero Waste Scotland, in collaboration with the Scottish Government, that goes beyond the traditional method of measuring the impact of waste by weight. Analysing the carbon impact of waste allows for a more accurate view of how everything we use in our daily lives contributes to Scotland’s carbon footprint.

The report measures the whole-life carbon impacts of Scotland’s waste, from resource extraction and manufacturing emissions, right through to waste management emissions, regardless of where in the world these impacts occur.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said:

“The first year of the pandemic saw us all having to change our way of living almost overnight – this included working from home to a rise in online shopping, which of course resulted in a spike in household waste. This has contributed to an increase in our own individual carbon footprint. Every person in Scotland is responsible for 18.4 tonnes of materials every year and it is these products and materials which make up around 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint.

“I commend the brilliant efforts by households to reuse and recycle, when possible, but Zero Waste Scotland believes the solution lies in the step before this. If we are serious about ending our contribution to the climate crisis we must live within our means and reduce our consumption in the first place – there is no time to waste.”

The carbon impact of waste from Scottish households grew by 3.2% compared to the previous year (from 5.66 million tonnes CO2 eq. to 5.84 million tonnes CO2 eq.), showing we need to do more to help improve our carbon footprint. This is likely due to Covid-19 lockdowns which saw more people staying at home and recycling centres closing their doors temporarily.

Despite this year-on-year increase, in 2020, the carbon impact of Scotland’s household waste is still 13.6% (approximately 920,000 tonnes) lower than the baseline level in 2011, at 5.84 million tonnes CO2 eq. down from 6.76 million tonnes CO2 eq.

Zero Waste Scotland experts believe that moving to impact-based measurements and targets will help Scotland, and countries around the world, more effectively combat climate change.

Shopping smarter and wasting less will help to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and slow climate breakdown. It is essential to switch from a ‘make, use, dispose’ culture, referred to as the linear economy, to a more circular economy where the value of products and materials is maximised to make them last as long as possible.

Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said:

"Every material that is wasted comes at a cost to our planet, but it’s clear that textiles are having a disproportionate impact. That’s why we are establishing an innovation fund to support initiatives that could help Scotland tackle textile pollution and throw-away culture.

“We want Scotland to have an economy where materials remain in use for as long as possible. This won’t just reduce Scotland's carbon footprint, it will also provide economic opportunities in re-use and remanufacturing. To help deliver this agenda, I am currently preparing plans for an ambitious Circular Economy Bill that will be published for consultation in due course.”


Notes For Editors

Zero Waste Scotland’s Carbon Metric Report comes following the release of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)’s latest Official Statistics for Household Waste in 2020 which was released on the 7th of December 2021.

About Zero Waste Scotland

Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change. 

Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy. 

We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund.

More information on all Zero Waste Scotland’s programmes can be found at https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/. You can also keep up to date with the latest from Zero Waste Scotland via our social media channels - Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

The Scottish Government is the Managing Authority for the European Structural Funds 2014-20 Programme. For further information visit our website or follow @scotgovESIF.

For media enquiries contact:

Sophie Thirkell, Communications Consultant - PR and Media (mat cover), Zero Waste Scotland

Mobile: 07966 284095

Email: sophie.thirkell@zerowastescotland.org.uk

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