Resource Use

Household recycling rates see very slight increase in Scotland

Waste statistics published yesterday (17 October) reveal that Scottish household recycling rates remain relatively stagnant at 43 per cent, with a 0.3 per cent increase between 2021-2022.

RecyclingThe statistics indicate that the Scottish Government’s commitment to recycling 70 per cent of all waste by the year 2025 is unlikely to be achieved. This is in contrast to Welsh recycling figures which increased from 45 per cent in 2010-2011 to 65 per cent in 2020-2021.

At current rates of progress, household waste will take approximately 100 years to reach the desired 70 per cent rate.

The figures also demonstrate that, for the first time, more household waste is being disposed of via incineration plants rather than landfill sites. Incinerators contribute to climate change due to the greenhouse gases emitted during the waste-burning process, whilst also increasing the difficulty in ensuring potentially recyclable materials are not wasted. Research by Zero Waste Scotland has shown that 60 per cent of residual waste from household bins could have been recycled.

Environmental campaigners argue that progress is ‘sluggish’, emphasising the need to prioritise waste reduction alongside recycling efforts.

In terms of reducing carbon emissions, it is of greater importance to reduce total waste than increase recycling rates; not producing waste in the first instance means less production and less waste that needs to be managed. However, downward trends in household waste also appear slow – falling from 2.6 million tonnes in 2012 to 2.3 million in 2022.

Improving recycling rates in Scotland

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government presented the Circular Economy Bill to the Scottish Parliament. The objective is to establish a circular economy in Scotland, wherein materials are given proper value and circulated within the economy for an extended duration by minimising consumption and promoting practices such as sharing, repairing, and recycling.

Commenting on the figures, Kim Pratt, Circular Economy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The continued failure of the Scottish Government to improve recycling rates shows that real action is needed to tackle our waste problem.

“The Circular Economy Bill is an opportunity to change the way we use materials in Scotland, but at the moment it’s not strong enough to make a significant impact. It needs to include targets to reduce our consumption.

“The Scottish Government must be bold and decisive to create the change needed to meet the threat of climate breakdown.

“Recycling is incredibly important for the planet, but moving to a circular economy means more than that. Strong consumption targets would mean policies to encourage producers to make products last for longer, ensure they are easy to repair, choose lower-carbon materials, and shift consumption patterns away from carbon-intensive goods and services.”

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