Scottish Parliament passes landmark Circular Economy Bill

Environmental campaigners hail new law as "a turning point for Scotland" following unanimous vote.

Debating chamber of the Scottish ParliamentThe Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill yesterday (26 June), which aims to redefine how waste is managed in Scotland.

Subject to royal asset, the landmark legislation, which passed with 116 votes in favour, with no votes against or abstentions, introduces comprehensive measures to transition Scotland towards a circular economy by addressing issues from household waste management to business practices and enforcement.

The Bill, originally introduced in June 2023, by Gillian Martin, Minister for Climate Action, requires Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish a comprehensive Circular Economy Strategy, including arrangements for monitoring progress.

Commending the role the new legislation will play, Martin said that there is ‘a real need to accelerate our efforts on the circular economy’.

She added: “We're all consumers, we must play our part in reducing waste… That's why this Bill is so far-reaching, it impacts us all from the goods we buy to what we put in our recycling bins.”

Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, commented: "This new law could be a turning point for Scotland, as we make the necessary shift away from our current throwaway culture. The way materials are used in Scotland is harmful to people, polluting the environment and contributing to climate breakdown. It also leaves people shelling out for poor quality products that break easily and can't be repaired."

Over the past year, the bill has been scrutinised by MSPs and other stakeholders, resulting in amendments to strengthen it, including new measures to consider the carbon footprint of materials consumed in Scotland and provisions to support workers and communities affected by the transition to a circular economy.

Key provisions

At its core, the Circular Economy Bill requires the Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish a comprehensive Circular Economy Strategy every five years. This strategy will set out objectives and plans for developing a circular economy in Scotland, taking into account various factors such as the waste hierarchy, just transition principles, behavioural changes, and international impacts.

To address waste in the retail sector, Ministers will be required to publish guidance on how they plan to enact powers in the bill to prohibit or restrict the disposal of unsold consumer goods, excluding food.

One of the most publicised aspects of the primary legislation is the power it gives to require suppliers of goods to charge for specified single-use items, with the proceeds to be applied to environmental protection or improvement. This is expected to be initially used for disposable beverage cups and single-use vapes.

The bill introduces new enforcement measures around household waste disposal and recycling, which has inevitably attracted attention in mainstream media. These include fixed penalty and civil penalty charges for people not following local authority instructions for managing household waste and recycling. Notably, the bill allows councils to issue warnings and civil penalties for households that "deliberately contaminate" recycling bins. However, Gillian Martin has emphasised that these penalties are intended for "repeat persistent offenders" rather than those who make honest mistakes.

Another key provision addresses littering from vehicles by introducing a new civil penalty charge. This allows for penalties to be imposed on the registered keeper of a vehicle from which litter is thrown, dropped, or otherwise deposited.

To tackle waste crime more effectively, the bill provides powers for enforcement authorities to stop, search, and seize vehicles suspected of being used in waste crimes. This includes powers to enter premises at reasonable times for this purpose, strengthening the ability to combat illegal waste disposal activities.

The bill empowers the Scottish Ministers to set local authority targets relating to developing a circular economy. These targets can cover areas such as reducing carbon emissions associated with material consumption, increasing re-use, refurbishment, repair, and recycling, and reducing waste. A new pre-laying procedure for the first regulations on these targets ensures transparency and stakeholder input, including a 90-day representation period for feedback.

Other significant provisions include a requirement for the Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish a waste reprocessing infrastructure report, outlining policies and proposals for developing waste infrastructure. The bill also brings Zero Waste Scotland under various public bodies legislation, increasing its accountability and potentially expanding its role in implementing circular economy strategies.

The bill also introduces powers for the Scottish Ministers to direct the administrator of deposit and return schemes, potentially allowing for more effective implementation of these schemes in the future.

Changes from the original bill

Since its introduction in June 2023, the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill has undergone several significant modifications. One key addition is the requirement for ministers to consider the carbon footprint of materials consumed in Scotland when setting circular economy targets. This change reflects a more holistic approach to sustainability, considering not just waste but also the overall environmental impact of consumption.

The bill now includes measures to ensure that people are properly supported as jobs shift to support a circular economy. This addition acknowledges the potential socio-economic impacts of the transition and aligns with the just transition principles outlined in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

The bill has also been strengthened in its approach to waste management. While the original draft included powers to set local recycling targets, the final version goes further by requiring the Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish a code of practice on household waste recycling. This code will provide more detailed guidance for local authorities on implementing effective recycling practices. However, the sanction of financial penalties for local authorities not meeting targets has now been removed.


The bill has broadly drawn a positive reaction from environmental groups, charities, and political parties. Phoebe Cochrane from Scottish Environment LINK identified it as an important milestone: "The passing of this bill is an important stage in Scotland's transition to an economy that is more circular – where we waste less and products and materials are used and reused for as long as possible. By making our economy less wasteful we can reduce our overall consumption of raw materials, something that is essential in addressing our impacts on climate and nature."

Highlighting the global implications of the legislation, Line Christensen, Partner Advocacy Officer at the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF), commented: "Building a circular economy can help drive down emissions at home, reduce our carbon footprint overseas and help tackle human and environmental abuses from the global economic system. This new law is a welcome first step in setting out a framework for how Scotland might help build a more just global economy that helps lift people out of poverty and secures progress on the Sustainable Development Goals."

However, not all reactions have been uniformly positive. Some environmental campaigners have expressed concerns about perceived omissions in the bill. Friends of the Earth Scotland, while welcoming the legislation overall, noted the absence of specific recycling targets, despite Scotland currently having the lowest recycling rates in the UK. They also called for a more concrete plan regarding transition minerals to avoid potential global harm.

Political responses have been mixed. Scottish Green co-leader Lorna Slater, who had been circular economy minister when the Greens were still in the Scottish Government, described the bill as a "significant step forward". She emphasised that the success of the bill would lie in how its powers are implemented.

Labour's Sarah Boyack offered a much more lukewarm response: "I don't think the Bill is as good as it could have been. My personal view is I still think it is a missed opportunity, because the Bill is more about recycling waste management than seizing the opportunity to deliver the circular economy our constituents, our businesses and our planet needs."

With the bill now passed, following the Royal Assent, the focus will now shift to implementation.