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Progress on Scotland’s household waste reduction and carbon impact but ‘more needs to be done’

Figures released today by SEPA show that Scotland has reached a record low in the volume of household waste produced and a significant drop in its environmental impact.

17 Sep 19

Iain Gulland, chief executive at Zero Waste Scotland, said the annual Scottish Household Waste figures for 2018 showed the greatest impact we can have in reducing climate change is by consuming less and that schemes such as Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) would provide a vital acceleration to recycling figures.

The total amount of household waste generated in Scotland across 2018 was a the lowest since records began at 2.41 million tonnes (Mt), a decrease of 55,574 tonnes (2%) from 2017 and over 200,000 tonnes (7.7%) below the 2011 baseline.

In addition, the carbon impact of waste - which measures emissions produced from resource extraction and manufacturing emissions through to waste management emissions - has also dropped. Emissions in 2018 are 5.76 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (TCO2e) down by 104,228 tonnes from 2017 (2%) and more than one million (15%) from 2011.

At the same time, recycling rates decreased slightly to 44.7% in 2018 from 45.5% in 2017 (-0.9%).

Mr Gulland said: “We have achieved a record low carbon impact for household waste and, while recycling is hugely important, waste prevention has far greater benefits, as most of the impacts from waste come not from waste management, but from producing the materials and products we discard in the first place.

“It has been a difficult year for recycling due to changes in global markets, especially for paper and plastics. While the overall figure has gone down slightly, there have been encouraging individual results with some of the top performing local authorities showing what can be done by achieving rates of more than 60%. Recycling rates for food waste, which is a particularly heavy carbon emitter, has also gone up by 40% over recent years.”

Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager at the Co-op – which reduced its food waste by almost a third between 2015-18 and lowered its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in the last year alone – welcomed the figures, and said: “The world is experiencing a climate crisis and we all need to work together to avoid it. Accelerating action like this is the only way to mitigate and reduce impacts on our natural world. Stretching, short-term targets, are imperative if we are to hold ourselves to account and achieve our collective longer-term ambitions. Making sure that we have a natural environment that we are proud to pass on to future generations needs action to be taken now.”

Zero Waste Scotland’s Household Carbon Metric brief for 2018, also published today, highlights the need to address the carbon intensive materials found in our waste. 

Food waste accounted for 25% of household waste by weight, but 32% of household waste carbon impacts, while textile waste made up just 6% of waste arisings, but 34% of the carbon impacts. To reduce emissions further, tackling food and textiles waste should continue to be a focus.

Mr Gulland added that a lot had been achieved from the current recycling and waste infrastructure but more action will be needed to meet Scotland’s ambitious 2025 targets. He cited Scotland’s Food Waste Prevention Action Plan, the deposit return scheme (with regulations laid in the Scottish Parliament last week) and proposals to improve producer responsibility, where the companies producing packaging and products are required to take responsibility for them at end of life, as opportunities to significantly improve our current performance.

“We have come a long way since 2011, however more needs to be done,” said Mr Gulland. “There are significant and innovative approaches designed to improve what is currently being done but we need to look at how we can do more still and this is at the heart of our newly launched Corporate Plan.

“To reduce our waste and environmental impact we need the buy in of everyone, from Zero Waste Scotland and SEPA, to the Scottish Government, local authorities and businesses. But even more importantly, we need to have the support of the public as around 60% of recyclable waste is still not being recycled.

“I urge people to look at their daily lives to where they could buy and waste less, reuse what they have and then recycle as a last option. We only need to look at the transformation in the way the public views the use of plastic to see how we can change our habits.

“Nothing will be achieved without a collective effort to recognise the problem posed by our waste and the will to do something about it. It’s our environment and we all need to take responsibility for protecting it.”


Notes For Editors

  • 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 through via our social media channels: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


For media enquiries contact:


Jamie MacDonald, PR Manager, Zero Waste Scotland

Email: jamie.macdonald@zerowastescotland.org.uk


Sophie Thirkell, Press Officer, Zero Waste Scotland

Mobile: 07966 284095

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