By Michael Cook
This blog is published as part of the Scottish Environment LINK project: A Circular Economy for a Fairer Footprint.
It is clear that Scotland is at a crossroads, facing a challenge to respond to two defining emergencies. First, how do we recover from the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 emergency? Second, how do we continue to focus on the environmental imperatives presented by our ongoing response to the climate emergency? The meeting point of these two agendas defines what I would mean by a green recovery.
What does a green recovery look like? In fact, what do we mean by “recovery”? An economist might see recovery as getting GDP and jobs back to where we were before Covid-19 hit. But a doctor would see recovery as getting a patient back to a place of health and wellbeing. This begs the question, how healthy was our economy, society and environment before the Covid-19 pandemic? Scotland’s recovery needs to balance the urgent economic, social and environmental priorities we face. Promoting reuse is central to a green recovery in Scotland and defining a new “post Covid” normal.
It is estimated, by Zero Waste Scotland, that 74% of Scotland’s carbon footprint results from our consumption of products and materials. Reducing this footprint is therefore the most important element of tackling the climate emergency. To do this we must move rapidly to a circular economy.
Most members of the public would say the best thing they can do with old household items is recycle them. This is not true – recycling is good, but reuse better, much better. Reuse is simply taking an item such as a bike or washing machine and using it again for its original purpose. This has a much lower carbon impact than breaking it down into its separate materials and recycling them, whilst at the same time manufacturing a replacement product.
There are social as well as environmental benefits to reuse too. For example, reuse creates more jobs than recycling. It has been calculated that processing 10,000 tonnes of waste creates 36 jobs in recycling but up to 296 jobs in reuse and repair.
Community Resources Network Scotland (CRNS) is Scotland’s national reuse, repair and recycling charity. Our latest member survey published in 2019 showed that our members divert over 37,000 tonnes of materials from landfill each year and significantly, for the first-time, reuse had overtaken recycling among our members. Our members are providing local solutions to the global climate emergency.
Each year Recyke-a-Bike diverts 12-15,000 bikes from landfill and last year 16.74 tonnes were reused. In Stranraer, the Reuse Shop is co-located with the council run Household Waste Recycling Centre so literal diversion from landfill could not be more convenient for the public. At CRNS our own Reuse Consortium has sold over 11,000 reuse furniture items to four local authorities generating over £1million of income for local social enterprises.
Our ambition is for reuse behaviour to become mainstream and be the convenient first choice for the Scottish public whether they are donating to a reuse social enterprise or taking items to their local authority recycling centre. Good quality reuse services at local authority recycling centres should not be a postcode lottery. There are some excellent examples of co-location (Stranraer, Moray and Oban), or zero waste sheds (Dunbar and Irvine) but these are the exception to the rule right now and this must change.
Our vision is for every local authority recycling centre in Scotland to offer a convenient and high-quality reuse option for the public. To achieve this, local authorities should be supported to work in partnership with local reuse social enterprises, ensuring local reuse opportunities are maximised for all.
As part of the green recovery, we are calling on the Scottish Government to define reuse best practice in a Reuse Charter or include reuse as a vital part of the existing Scottish Household Recycling Charter. Household Recycling Centres should be renamed Reuse Centres and include best practice provision for reuse as a convenient first choice for the public. Targets for reuse should be set for each local authority and monitored and reported annually (as already occurs for recycling). UK wide legislation for Extended Producer Responsibility could provide much needed funds to invest in this urgently needed reuse infrastructure.
Only by taking these actions can we be confident Scotland will make the rapid progress towards a circular economy needed to meet our climate change obligations. Reuse would also provide valuable jobs which would assist the wider recovery agenda.
CEO Community Resources Network Scotland.
Michael Cook joined CRNS as CEO in September 2018. His early career was in the financial sector as a chartered accountant and in Change Management. Over the last decade Michael has benefited from a range of experience in the charitable sector, leading both the Scottish office of a medical charity working in West Africa and, subsequently, a large residential outdoor centre.