Scotland’s Circular Economy Bill

03 Apr 2024

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

Image: Friends of the Earth Scotland/Iain McLean

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 consume less raw materials, use products and materials again and again and prevent waste leaking into the environment, needs to replace our wasteful linear economy, one of using products for a short time before discarding them.

Scotland won’t meet its commitments on climate change or make a fair contribution to reversing global biodiversity loss until its economy becomes more circular.   Although the need to transition to a circular economy is clear and it is popular across the political divide, the linear economy is firmly entrenched, and those that do adopt circular models are often at a competitive disadvantage, and many have remained niche.  So, although there are many great pioneering initiatives, what we now need is wholesale change and that requires Government to take up the reins. 

The Circular Economy Bill, currently going through Parliament, offers the opportunity to do just that. There are three stages to a Bill’s passage through Parliament.  The Circular Economy Bill has just been voted through Stage 1 following scrutiny by the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.  The committee report and Minister’s response are available.  

LINK members were pleased to see unanimous recognition of the need to move to a more circular economy expressed by MSPs in the Stage 1 debate, and the calls for more ambition and clarity.  We were also pleased to hear many of our ideas mentioned by MSPs.

The Bill has now moved on to Stage 2 where the Committee consider and then vote on amendments to the Bill.

LINK members are generally supportive of measures in the Bill (which include the introduction of charges for single use items, banning the destruction of unsold goods, improving local authority waste management services, reporting of surpluses and waste) but are proposing a number of amendments, which broadly fall into five areas.

A definition of circular economy and the waste hierarchy

Two fundamental omissions from the Bill are a definition of a circular economy and the waste hierarchy.  Both could be included at the beginning of the bill in something called a ‘Purpose clause’.  There are many different definitions of circular economy, which at its most simple must include that it is an economy in which the consumption of raw materials is reduced to sustainable levels.  The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describe it as a ‘system where materials never become waste and nature is regenerated.’ 

The waste hierarchy holds that there is a hierarchy in the ways to deal with waste.  As such, measures towards the bottom of the hierarchy (like landfill, incineration, and even recycling) should not be deployed until those higher up (reduction, reuse, refurbishment etc) are exhausted.

Strengthening the framework

The Bill is in part a framework bill – in other words, it sets out the framework for a strategic and comprehensive approach to a more circular economy in Scotland that will drive further regulatory and policy changes.  

The Bill includes measures on setting statutory circular economy targets, publishing a circular economy strategy every 5 years, reporting requirements; and emphasises that targets and strategy should contribute to the reduction of consumption of materials.   However, for the framework to be effective in driving and delivering change, it must be tighter and we are asking for specific amendments on the obligation to set targets; the nature of those targets, which must include a carbon footprint target; and the need for the strategy to detail how targets will be met.

Producer responsibility

LINK members would like to see the Bill include specific measures to make more businesses take back their products when they would otherwise be discarded.  This would transfer the responsibility for management of this ‘waste’ to the producer and would incentivise them to sell products that are designed to ‘retain value’ at the end of their life – in other words, be made in such a way that they could be more cheaply and effectively reused, or parts of them could be reused or, if not, at a minimum the materials could be readily recycled.  

The Bill should also obligate the use of reusable packaging, with targets for a proportion of all packaging to be reusable by a certain date, as is the case in other countries such as France and Germany

Scottish Government’s circularity

LINK members would like to see public bodies obliged to consider use of materials in their procurement decisions, in the same way they already have to consider climate emissions.  Similarly, circularity reporting should be part of the process for applying for public sector grants and loans.  These measures would ensure that those in receipt of public money would need to be working towards making their products and operations more circular and reducing their consumption of raw materials and associated carbon emissions.

Just Transition and Due diligence

LINK members are proposing amendments on Just Transition and due diligence in the Bill. First, to require alignment with the Just Transition principles which include engagement with workers and a focus on sustainable jobs.  Second, placing a duty on public bodies to prevent human rights and environmental harms as far as possible in their own operations and throughout their supply chain. 

As you can see from the above, LINK members have quite a range of suggestions for improvements to this Bill.  We will be working with the Scottish Government and MSPs on these amendments during the coming weeks.  The Committee will be voting on amendments on the 30th April – this will be the end of Stage 2, and Stage 3 (back to the whole Parliament for the last chance to amend the Bill) will follow shortly after.

For more details on the amendments proposed please see the below or contact

LINK evidence to the NZET Committee

APRS briefing on takeback, refill, a purpose clause, Scottish Government’s circularity, and conditions for companies in receipt of public support

Friends of the Earth Scotland briefing paper on the Circular Economy Bill


Top image: Friends of the Earth Scotland/Iain McLean

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