Resource Use

Scotland’s recycling rate surges past 60 per cent

Scotland’s recycling rate surges past 60 per centScotland has boosted its recycling rate above 60 per cent for the first time, according to new figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

Official statistics released on Tuesday (29 May) reveal that in 2016, the country sent 6.96 million tonnes of waste to be recycled, composted or prepared for reuse. This is 61 per cent of Scotland’s total waste arisings from businesses as well as households, and represents a rise of 683,094 tonnes or 10.9 per cent on 2015 figures.

Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I’m pleased to see that the amount of Scottish waste being collected in Scotland has decreased. For the first time we’ve recycled more than 60 per cent of our waste from all sources, which shows we are making progress towards our 2025 target of 70 per cent and our work to promote and simplify recycling is paying off.”

The primary contributor to this increase in recycling was the construction and demolition sector, reporting a huge rise in the amount of soils and mineral wastes being recycled: a rise of 23.1 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively compared to 2015 figures.

Organic waste also played a part, with the amount of organics (including animal and mixed food wastes, sludges and waste from households) recycled in composting or anaerobic digestion facilities up by 102,580 tonnes (20.4 per cent) since the previous year.

At the same time, the figures show that total waste generated in Scotland has fallen from 2015 to 2016, and the country’s waste to landfill is at its lowest level yet – 32.5 per cent of all Scottish waste is still sent to landfill, which is a decrease of 10.3 per cent from 2015. At the current rate, however, the country is a long way off its goal of a maximum five per cent of waste to landfill by 2025.

Scotland’s recycling rate surges past 60 per cent
Scotland's waste to landfill is at its lowest level ever
In addition, even though total waste has fallen, the amount of waste sent to energy-from-waste (EfW) recovery in Scotland in 2016 rose by over 13 per cent, an approach which has been criticised by Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), who warned in February that sending more waste for incineration will harm innovation and reduce investment in secondary materials markets.

In a UK context

Scotland remains in second place in the UK behind Wales, which has independently reported a figure of 64 per cent of waste to reuse, recycling or composting for the 12 months prior to March 2017. Both are leagues ahead of England: the English household waste recycling rate has been hovering at the mid-40 per cent mark for some time, increasing only two per cent from 2010 to 2017. Scotland and Wales both have devolved recycling targets, aiming for 70 per cent by 2025, while England is only beholden to the wider UK target of 50 per cent household waste to recycling by 2020, which the UK looks to fall short of if current trends continue.

Commenting on the new figures for Scotland, Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS), said: “These figures show some really positive progress towards a more circular economy – a big increase in recycling and reuse, more food waste being recycled, less waste going to landfill, and especially less climate-harming biodegradable waste. This has been achieved with hard work from local authorities and others, as well as the growing understanding of the importance of recycling and waste reduction in homes and businesses.

“They also show the importance of setting an ambitious and long-term policy direction.  Scotland has led the way by introducing stretching targets and measures to limit and ultimately phase out the use of landfill for the most polluting wastes. That’s why Scotland is recognised as a world leader on the circular economy and why others are now emulating our approach.”

The Scottish Government’s circular economy strategy, ‘Making Things Last’, was launched in 2016 in collaboration with SEPA and ZWS, setting out a path towards more circular and sustainable use of resources within four key areas: food, drink and the bioeconomy; remanufacture; construction; and energy infrastructure. As a part of this strategy, the government has developed a £70-million investment programme to help businesses implement innovative circular models. More recently, ZWS launched Circular Edinburgh, aimed at helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Edinburgh identify and maximise circular economy opportunities.

SEPA Chief Executive Terry A’Hearn said: “Recycling is a real Scottish success story and a simple daily step that communities, corner shops or corporates can take to build a more sustainable Scotland.  The scale of the environmental challenge is enormous and we know we live on one planet, but consume the resources of three.

“The most successful countries in the 21st century will be resource efficient, circular economies, where what once was waste is valued as a resource.  We are committed to helping all regulated businesses do more to support waste prevention and facilitate the use of secondary resources in the economy, helping communities and businesses thrive within the resources of our planet.”

The full official statistics document for 2016 can be found on the SEPA website.

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