Innovating recycling in Scotland

Iain Gulland, Executive Director and CEO of Zero Waste Scotland, outlines how Scotland is harnessing the pandemic's effect on waste behaviour.

If COP26 and the response to what it achieved showed us anything, it’s that we cannot stand still in our efforts to transition to a more circular, low-carbon economy, making far more productive use of the materials we all need in our daily lives. Central to that are improvements to the recycling services available to all householders, a key part of a functioning circular economy.

The pandemic brought many things into sharp focus. One of those well-documented trends was the renewed interest from the public in environmental issues, at the local level exemplified by our recycling services. Zero Waste Scotland’s own polling emphasised these trends and indicated people were recycling at least as much as before the pandemic and wanted to do more.

In our survey of 1000 Scots from earlier this year, 46 per cent said they had become more concerned about the environment since the start of the pandemic, and a massive 92 per cent said they were recycling the same as or more than before. Key stated reasons for recycling more included an increased quantity of materials to recycle since the pandemic started and having more time at home than before.

This was an ideal time, therefore, for the Scottish Government to bring forward the biggest investment in Scotland’s recycling services in a generation, the £70m Recycling Improvement Fund, launched in March. This week in Scotland we’ve passed an important milestone for the fund, with the first awards being made.

The first successful bids demonstrate some of the innovative thinking that’s come from local authorities, guided by the Household Recycling Charter and mindful of the types of measures that fit within the overall shift to a more circular economy. Successful bids will save carbon and contribute towards Scotland’s journey to meet not just its recycling, but also its climate change commitments.

These include a mattress reuse scheme in North Ayrshire, new facilities for plastic film recycling in Fife, more Recycle-on-the-Go bins in South Ayrshire, and brand new Romaquip vehicles – which can collect all materials, including food waste, maximising efficiency and recycling potential – as part of East Lothian’s totally Charter-compliant new kerbside service. 

In total, seven bids have been approved so far (with projects also given the green light in Highland, Aberdeenshire and Midlothian) worth a total of £7.1m.

Part of the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, the fund aims to accelerate progress towards Scotland’s ambitious waste and recycling targets and net-zero commitment whilst unlocking specific national and local circular economy opportunities.

It is doing this by encouraging innovation, providing the support for new infrastructure that will bring about a step-change in both the quantity and quality of materials collected for repurposing in Scotland.

My team at Zero Waste Scotland, which administers the fund on behalf of the Government and CoSLA, has been delighted to see the fruition of the hard work and strategic thinking coming from this group of councils, as well as additional bids which we expect to be approved shortly. 

And we’re continuing to innovate ourselves, building on learning from how the first year of the fund has worked, to make refinements to the application process for future years, providing additional support to councils to ensure their very best ideas have the maximum chance of success.  We’re also keen to encourage partnership between local authorities, and with the private and third sectors, to unlock further innovation and efficiency. Only by working together, can we meet the significant environmental challenges that we face.

More information on the fund and a full list of successful projects are available here.