Reduce and Reuse – are Scottish Government proposals up to the job?

04 Mar 2024

A more circular economy is really important. 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 is currently consulting on its Circular Economy and Waste Route Map.  At the same time, its Circular Economy Bill is going through parliament, with the parliamentary committee report now available.

This is the first of three blogs which will discuss different sections of the Route Map and how they could be strengthened.  

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

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

This blog focusses on Reduce and Reuse and will comment on a few of the proposals included in the Route Map.  These proposals arguably have the biggest impact, being at the top of the waste hierarchy. They are presented under three objectives:

  1. Drive responsible consumption, production and re-use
  2. Reduce food waste
  3. Embed circular construction practices.


  1. Drive responsible consumption, production and re-use.

Under this objective, the priority action is to develop and publish a Product Stewardship Plan to identify and tackle the environmental impact of priority products (by 2025/26). Product stewardship is an approach that means whoever designs, produces, sells or uses a product takes responsibility for minimising its environmental impact. The Scottish Government says that “This will include at least three priority products for which a range of product stewardship measures will be identified, alongside delivery timelines. …… In determining priority products, we are considering including mattresses, tyres and textiles.” 

At this point, my heart sinks.  Not because Product Stewardship isn’t a suitable priority; but because  it has been on the Government’s to do list since 2016, when Making Things Last included a laudable intention to “explore the concept of a single framework for producer responsibility, bringing together common elements into one flexible and transparent system, making it simpler for businesses who are involved in more than one product type and making it easier to add new products and materials to the producer responsibility regime in the future.”  

This lack of progress reinforces the need for product stewardship measures in the Circular Economy Bill. LINK members propose that, building on existing examples of good practice, take-back obligations should be introduced. This would require retailers to take back products at the end of their life, acting as an incentive to design products that retain value. This can be phased in, with priority mainly based on the environmental impact of the product group.   Take-back should also be a standard requirement in public procurement contracts. 

Other actions under this objective in the Route Map include placing a charge on disposable cups and prioritising other problematic products to which to apply environmental charges. Here, my main concern is that the charge alone will have little impact on reducing consumption of single use cups. Parallel measures are needed. First, Scottish Government should ban all single use cups (and other single use crockery/cutlery) from closed settings, such as sit-in cafes, conference centres, work places, festivals. Second, a system is needed whereby people can borrow a reusable cup and then return it, often called ‘cup deposit schemes’.  Such schemes are widespread in Germany and there have been trials in Scotland. They ideally operate over a large area, so that cups can be picked up from and returned to different locations – this can be achieved through a single scheme or neighbouring schemes working together. 

  1. Reduce food waste

There is a clear justification for tackling food waste with a number of reports highlighting it as key to addressing biodiversity loss and carbon emissions. The Route Map acknowledges that efforts to reduce food waste to date have been ineffective and suggests two priority measures. First, to deliver an intervention plan to guide long-term work on household food waste reduction behaviour change (by 2025).  Second to develop with stakeholders the most effective way to implement mandatory reporting for food waste and surplus by businesses (by 2025/26).

Regarding the first, we need more than a plan, so this action must be clarified to make clear:

  1. That it is to design (by 2025) and deliver (on an ongoing basis) a long-term intervention plan.
  2. That this plan covers all mechanisms to support a reduction in household food waste, including behaviour change.

I would advocate for the second priority to be to strengthen data and evidence beyond business reporting, as this is needed to support the first priority. LINK members have proposed an addition to the Circular Economy Bill, mandating the reporting of volume of food loss and waste generated in Scotland, disaggregated by sector (primary production, manufacturing, retail, catering and in home); by type of waste, and by destination. It is hard to see how the thorny issue of food waste can be effectively tackled without such data.

  1. Embed circular construction practices

Construction and demolition creates a huge tonnage of waste materials that could be better used. Commenting on this section is outside LINK’s expertise. However, even a cursory read of supporting papers throws up questions. The priority action in the Route Map is to support the development of regional Scottish hubs and networks for the reuse of construction materials and assets (from 2025).

However, in the report on improving the reuse of construction materials, published as a background paper to the Route Map; the main conclusion is  ‘Acknowledging business and fiscal drivers, evidence presented in this report suggests that until legislative change is implemented to support circular practises as financially preferable, sectoral change may not escalate at the desired rate to meet reduced consumption by 2025 and beyond.’

The report (based on workshops for industry representatives) makes several specific recommendations for legislative changes and I would question why these are not included in the Circular Economy Bill? To consider such measures is included as another activity in the Route Map, but is more consideration what’s needed? We don’t have years and years to consider such options.


In general, the Reduce and Reuse section in the Route Map needs to be tighter and stronger and reflect more urgency. Specific actions are needed, linked to specific ‘reduce and reuse’ outcomes which will have a demonstrable impact on reducing material consumption and tackling materials that are particularly harmful to the environment.  

Next week, LINK will publish a blog that looks at the Route Map sections on modernising recycling and decarbonising disposal.

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

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