Materials Matter – Have your say on a circular economy for Scotland

22 Jul 2022

By Dr Phoebe Cochrane, sustainable economics officer at Scottish Environment LINK

Most people have an inherent dislike for wastefulness, yet we seem to be stuck in a system which pays little heed to the quantity of waste that is generated or its final destination. Now is the time to have your say on how we can change this situation.

The Scottish Government has published proposals for a Circular Economy Bill alongside a draft Circular Economy Route Map, and is asking people to give their views on both until 22nd August. It’s crucial that as many people as possible respond to these consultations, to urge the government to make real and lasting changes to the system.  Scottish Environment LINK has produced this guide to help you respond.

What is a circular economy and why do we need one?

In Scotland and other developed countries we are using and wasting vast amounts of materials. Research shows  global consumption of natural resources has tripled since the 1970s and is set to further double by 2060. This is the key driver of biodiversity loss. Material flow accounts for Scotland show our material footprint to be more than double sustainable levels, and carbon footprint data shows that over 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint is derived from emissions embedded in goods we consume. Addressing the quantity of raw materials used in our economy is therefore key in meeting climate and biodiversity goals.

The best way to reduce the quantity of raw materials we use is to make our economy more circular, with repairable products designed to last as long as possible, made of materials that can be safely reused or recycled. Such an economy should be regenerative, replenishing natural systems through returning biological materials as composts to the soil and restoring and nurturing biodiversity.

The Circular Economy Consultations

The suggestions put forward in the Scottish Government’s consultations will help make Scotland’s economy more circular and less wasteful and, in turn, reduce our impact on climate and nature. However, there are areas where the proposals don’t go far enough. By responding to the consultations, you can demonstrate your support for the government’s proposals, and urge it to do more.

You might well be wondering why there are two consultations at the same time on the same topic. The Route Map sets out the actions to be taken, many of which do not require legislation; whereas the Bill will provide the Government with the outstanding powers it needs to deliver these actions.

Scottish Environment LINK and Friends of the Earth Scotland recently held an event to learn more about the proposals and to discuss how they might be strengthened – the slides and summary report provide details of this discussion.

Participants had many and varied ideas about how the proposals could be improved, including:

  • A sustained and comprehensive public awareness raising campaign
  • More focus on manufacturers and design
  • Tracking of surplus materials and waste
  • Publicly available and better data
  • Stronger measures on public procurement
  • More focus on the global impacts from supply chains and waste
  • Measures to look after our soil
  • More on addressing the inputs to food production
  • More active facilitation of reuse
  • A stronger and bolder vision especially on how to influence inputs and production.



Given it is #plasticfreejuly we could also think a bit more about how the Scottish Government could go further in tackling plastics. The recent Big Plastic Count found fruit and vegetable packaging followed by snack bags, packets and wrappers to be the commonest plastic packaging waste from households. The Rethink Plastic Alliance have identified key asks of governments to reduce plastic packaging from the grocery retail sector including:

  • Binding targets of 25% reduction in plastic packaging by 2025, increasing to 50% by 2030. To be complimented by:
  • An overall reduction target for packaging waste per material stream to prevent switching to other single-use packaging
  • Bans on unnecessary packaging.
  • Reusable packaging targets of 25% of consumer packaging to be reusable by 2025, increasing to 50% by 2030.
  • Eat-in food and beverage packaging must be reusable for hotels, restaurants and cafes.
  • 75% of take away and delivery food and beverage packaging must be reusable by 2030.
  • 50% of e-commerce packaging should be reusable by 2030.

France has banned plastic packaging for about 30 types of fruit and vegetables (such as cabbage, potatoes, leeks, peppers, apples, pears) this year. Additionally, newspapers can’t be mailed in plastic packaging and public spaces must have at least one accessible drinking fountain to reduce numbers of plastic water bottles.

In Germany, deposit return schemes for cups are in operation in a number of cities and regions whereby the cup you purchase your beverage in has a small charge which is redeemed when you return it to one of the multiple returning points. These systems replace single-use with reusable, but don’t require everyone to have their own reusable cups. Festivals and markets in Germany also largely operate these systems for cups, plates and utensils.

Several LINK members are working on different aspects of plastic pollution – the Marine Conservation Society would like to see plastic wet wipes banned in Scotland; Fidra asks for a legislated supply chain approach to plastic pellet loss, and Friends of the Earth Scotland are campaigning for plastic to be kept out of incinerators.

Have your say

These are some of the ideas for and examples of what could be done in Scotland. I am sure you will have other ideas as well and it is really important that the Scottish Government hears them.

Please follow this link to a guide on how to respond to these consultations. A few things to note:

  • It does not matter if you don’t answer all the questions. Even if you have just one main point to make, pop it in to one of the open questions.
  • If you are unsure which consultation your point is relevant to, put it in both consultation responses

If you have any questions, please get in touch:








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