A strong Circular Economy

19 Mar 2024

Moving towards a more circular economy is important and urgent.  Globally, about 90% of biodiversity loss can be attributed to resource extraction and processing and, in Scotland, about 80% of our carbon footprint is from emissions embedded in goods we use and consume.

A transition to a more circular economy, where we use products and materials again and again and prevent waste leaking into the environment, needs to replace our linear economy, one of using products for a short time before discarding them.

The Scottish Government’s Circular Economy Bill is going through parliament, with the parliamentary committee report and Minister’s response now available. The Government also recently published its draft Circular Economy and Waste Route Map which describes all the activities (some of which need legislation and are in the Bill) the Government plans to undertake up to 2030. 

The Route Map is divided into four ‘strategic aims’:

  • Reduce and reuse
  • Modernise recycling
  • Decarbonise disposal
  • Strengthen the circular economy

This is the third of three blogs discussing the Route Map.   Getting to grips with recycling and Reduce and reuse – are Scottish Government proposals up to the job discussed earlier sections of the route map.  This blog will discuss some of the proposals in the section on strengthening the circular economy.

It is timely to focus on strengthening the circular economy.  In Scotland we have many fantastic examples of businesses, social enterprises and innovative partnerships demonstrating how to deliver goods and services that reduce our consumption of raw materials and waste, for example tool libraries, repair cafes, the Remanufacturing InstituteCircular Glasgow .  But arguably what has been missing has been the mechanisms and drive to bring the mainstream along – we need all businesses and organisations to be thinking about minimising their environmental and social impacts from materials in all aspects of their operations.

The Route Map proposes a number of actions to strengthen the circular economy.

Priority actions:

  • To develop a circular economy strategy every 5 years. Note – a statutory duty to do this is included in the Circular Economy Bill.  LINK members welcome this as it is needed to guide a strategic approach to transitioning to a more circular economy and lay out how the new targets (see below) will be met.  LINK members would like to see stronger commitments to some aspects of the Strategy such as how it links to the targets and the reporting requirements – you can read the detail in our evidence to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport committee.
  • To set new circular economy targets. Note – the powers to set such targets in legislation is included in the Circular Economy Bill.  The current targets all relate to waste and recycling, are not in legislation and were set in 2016.  We need new targets in legislation which will drive a reduction in our consumption of raw materials and, in particular, those materials that contribute most to our carbon footprint and impact on biodiversity.  The Route Map indicates that Scottish Government is considering targets on reducing the use of materials, increasing reuse, increasing recycling and material specific targets.  We welcome these, and would also like to see a carbon footprint target which would drive a reduction in carbon intensive materials and goods – those the production of which results in the biggest emissions.  These emissions often occur overseas and so are not included in Scotland’s existing climate targets.

There are four ‘other actions’ which cover data, research, procurement and green skills.  All are fundamental to strengthening the circular economy and, although LINK members would agree with the Government’s prioritisation, we would not see any of these other actions as optional. With out timely and relevant data, we can’t evidence policy design or monitor progress. 

The background research on, amongst other things, behaviour change and fiscal incentives, is really important to inform the development of policy.  Education and skills are also fundamental –Scotland’s children and young people need to learn about the importance of, and opportunities associated with, a different way of using our scarce materials; we need to redress the loss of repair skills in our society, and our future more circular economy needs scientists and innovators who take a different lens to their thinking.

Last, but not least, procurement and I will say a little more about this.  Public procurement amounts to £14.5 billion of spending a year on goods, services and works.  How this money is spent has a huge impact both directly through what is purchased, but also indirectly by stimulating market development and innovation. 

LINK members would like Scottish Government to be more definite about changing public procurement procedures such that procurement departments have to demonstrate a move towards more circular suppliers.  In fact, LINK members would like to see conditions put on all public bodies and the use of any public money such that government grants, subsidies, loans or other funding must further the transition towards a circular economy. 

LINK members welcome the long overdue commitment to explore how  legislation brought in 15 years ago (!) could be used to require public authorities to purchase certain goods with a given level of recycled content and/ or to be recyclable.  It is time for the public sector to really lead from the front if the Government is serious about the circular economy.

Together these measures undoubtedly have the potential to strengthen Scotland’s circular economy.  However, a number of measures are exploratory in nature, and so the follow up action is crucial as are the resources and budget needed for its delivery.  This is why the statutory targets and strategy are so important – committing the Government to setting a direction and framework for action into the future. 

Later this week, the Scottish Parliament will hold the Stage 1 debate of the Circular Economy Bill.  Next week LINK will publish a blog focussing on the Bill – summing up Stage 1 and looking ahead to Stage 2.

By Phoebe Cochrane, Scottish Environment LINK’s Sustainable Economics Officer






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