Resource Use

Circular economy should be a ‘top priority’ for Scotland

Infographic of oil/gas decomissioning courtesy of Zero Waste Scotland

A circular economy - where materials and resources flow in a cycle of reuse rather than being wasted or landfilled – holds ‘huge potential’ for Scotland and should be government’s ‘top priority’ for government, industry and the education system, a panel of organisations told Scottish Parliament yesterday (14 May).

The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee took evidence on the matter from a range of organisations, including: Zero Waste Scotland; the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA); the Ellen MacArthur Foundation; Green Alliance; Education Scotland; and Scottish Enterprise, as part of its work to ‘get a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges for Scotland in relation to the circular economy’. It is expected that the panel will help inform the committee’s future work programme, which is scheduled for review next month.

It follows on from increasing government focus on reducing waste and boosting resource efficiency, after the Scottish Government found that by bringing about ‘a more resource efficient and circular economy’, the country could save £2.9 billion and ensure resource security.

Where do the opportunities lie?

The main focus of the panel was how to retain the value of materials in Scotland, so that they are reprocessed and reused by Scottish companies, creating economic opportunities.

Zero Waste Scotland gave evidence outlining that delivering zero waste plan targets has the potential to create 5,200 new jobs from the collection, sorting and reprocessing of materials and that ‘far greater levels of job creation are possible when materials are managed higher up the value chain (e.g. through repair, refurbishment, reuse and remanufacturing)’.

Director of Zero Waste Scotland, Iain Gulland said:“The current linear economic model, where we produce, consume and discard, is simply not the best way to extract the full value of resources and maximise economic and environmental gains in Scotland.  By establishing a more circular economy in Scotland - where goods are firstly designed with future reuse in mind, and then recycled and remanufactured to be used again – we can maximise the value of resources in our economy, and embed sustainability in the way we do business.” 

He concluded: “A circular economy will not only help shield businesses from fluctuations in price and availability of key resources, but there are huge opportunities for business growth for those who can capitalise on the need to repair, reprocess, and remanufacture materials and products.  This would create jobs and economic growth for Scotland.” 

The importance of designing products to be easily repaired and reused, and then at end of life to be broken down to reuse the materials efficiently was also discussed. Indeed, Green Alliance highlighted that many products, such as cars and smartphones retain more of their original value when they continue to be used as products, rather than broken down for recouping the individual materials. It gave evidence showing that a reused iPhone retains around 48 per cent of its original value when reused, whereas its value as recyclate is just 0.24 per cent of its original value.

Remanufacturing products, where a part such as a car engine is returned to a factory to be reconditioned to be as new, was also identified as a big opportunity for Scottish industry. Public procurement was also identified as a potential way to enable these kinds of opportunities to start be introduced more widely in Scotland.

‘The potential for genuinely transformative change’

As well as viewing materials as a resource, the importance of new business models was discussed, with panel members highlighting the potential for a greater focus on leasing products rather than selling them. It was thought that by leasing appliances, such as washing machines or fridges, manufacturers could retain the value of the materials. The example of Phillips was mentioned, which is starting to move from selling lightbulbs and lamps, to selling units of  ‘lux’ with all lighting infrastructure simply rented to customers to provide the supply of light.

Ewan Mearns, Senior Manager of Strategy Development at Scottish Enterprise said: “At its heart, the circular economy is about innovation. It is about finding new ways to recover and reuse materials, to redesign manufacturing processes and supply chains, and to view product design and new business models as important sources of creating new economic value. 

“We believe that the circular economy holds the potential for genuinely transformative change across the Scottish economy. By maximising the value of materials already in circulation the circular economy can not only deliver environmental benefits but also stimulate growth, increased productivity, job creation and a more resilient economy.”

Introducing the circular economy into the curriculum

In order to bring about these changes, Education Scotland outlined that education was a key issue.

Ian Menzies, Senior Education Officer for Science at Education Scotland said that the circular economy should be embdedd within the school curriculum to help people start thinking of resource efficiency from a young age. He said: "We want to give our young people an opportunity to rethink the future and we are proud to say that Scotland has ambitions to lead the world in the circular economy.Teaching our young people about global citizenship and responsibility is of great importance and we support practitioners to achieve this and to make connections between Sustainable Development Education, global citizenship and curriculum areas.”

The evidence-giving came on the same day as Zero Waste Scotland hosted a joint event with Decom North Sea in Aberdeen to explore the benefits of moving towards a circular economy in Scotland’s oil and gas industry. 

Oil and gas decommissioning has been identified as a key area in which circular economy business models could yield significant economic and environmental benefits.

Gulland said: “There are opportunities to exploit in most key industries in Scotland. Decommissioning activities within the oil and gas industry, a sector which is expected to cost between £35 to £50 billion between now and 2040, is a great example of potential opportunities to do things in a more economical and sustainable way.”

Scotland’s work on resource efficiency

Scotland’s current zero waste plan already includes a ‘Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources’ action plan, a resource security blueprint which was released after it was found that around 75 per cent more raw materials would need to be extracted over the next 25 years if the country’s consumption trends continue at the current rate.

The government also recently set up Resource Efficient Scotland, an advice and support service that aims to help Scottish businesses ‘reduce energy, water and raw materials costs’ and offers ’free support, training and access to funding to help… implement resource efficiency measures’. This includes advice on finance and how to gain access to it.

Read the written evidence from the circular economy panel, or find out more about establishing a circular economy.