I turn to this afternoon’s business. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-13134, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the circular economy—waste management.
I call Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, to speak to and move the motion. You have a generous 14 minutes, cabinet secretary.
I am pleased to open our first ever debate on the opportunities of a more circular economy for Scotland. Although this is our first debate on this important subject, I am certain that it will not be the last.
In the traditional economy in which we live or have lived in the past, we take, we make and we dispose. We take resources from the ground, air or water, we make products and then we dispose of them. A circular economy is about retaining the value of our primary resources, designing, reusing, repairing and remanufacturing, and exploring new business models that support a more circular approach.
We are getting better at disposing of goods in a way that lessens the impact on the environment. We are landfilling less, we are recovering energy, particularly from food waste, and we are recycling what we can. I think that we all accept that business as usual is not an option. We must act now to put the value of our resources at the heart of Scotland’s economy.
Creating a circular economy is an economic, environmental and moral necessity. It will create jobs in our communities, it will improve our quality of life and, of course, it is just good sense.
Major new economic powers are emerging in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Korea and elsewhere. The climate is changing, and the world’s population is changing; therefore, our demands for the world’s resources are changing. Globally, by 2030, we may need around 40 per cent more water, 80 per cent more steel and 33 per cent more energy. Those are just some examples of how demand is increasing.
Commodity prices are more volatile these days. As we all know, they have increased sharply since the 2000s. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has identified a global saving of £1.3 trillion if we were to move to a more circular economy.
We are all politicians here, so we have the means to design and influence action in Scotland, as well as the rest of the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. Therefore, it is our responsibility to show as much leadership as we can in this important area.
Last October, The Guardian identified five countries moving ahead of the pack on taking action on the circular economy. I am pleased to say that Scotland stands alongside Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan in leading the way. The Green Alliance, which is a UK environmental think tank, has also said that Scotland is a long way ahead of other parts of the UK in its policy support for resource productivity.
We are all too familiar with products that seem to be designed to be discarded after relatively short use. That could be a mobile phone with a sealed casing or a washing machine sentenced to a short life because the part needed is not available any more. Design for a circular economy is the first step.
When a product has fulfilled its first life, reuse is almost always the preferred option. Reusing a product retains the embedded value of materials and the labour and the energy that were involved in making it in the first place, and it avoids the demand for new resources to create another new product.
Repair is by no means a new concept. We would not dream of scrapping a car just because the alternator had gone, but how often have we replaced a television, a vacuum cleaner or a coat or any other item of clothing because it was too difficult to get it repaired or fixed?
Remanufacture is when we take apart a product and rebuild it to the same standard as—or better than—the original. New resources are avoided, and remanufacturing can be much less energy intensive than manufacturing a new product.
In our traditional or linear economy, there is little incentive to make products reliable and easy to repair, or to design them so that valuable parts can be salvaged when they cannot be repaired. The concept of a circular economy can be daunting, but it starts to make sense once we unpack it into visible, practical things that we can do.
In January this year, the Green Alliance and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry published a report that identifies key opportunities for Scotland in particular sectors. Those include a potential £140 million opportunity from converting whisky by-products into feed for the fish farming industry. Reusing steel from decommissioned oil and gas rigs instead of melting it down for recycling could cut associated carbon emissions by more than 80 per cent.
In March, I published a report that sets out the potential value of remanufacturing to Scotland. Remanufacturing is already worth £1.1 billion to the Scottish economy, and it supports around 17,000 jobs, but the potential exists for its value to grow by £620 million by 2020 and for it to create another 5,700 jobs.
I was privileged to open the fantastic new Scottish institute of remanufacture in Glasgow earlier this year, which was established with £1.3 million of support from Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council. That innovative centre will focus on innovation in remanufacturing, collaborative projects and establishing a remanufacturing community in Scotland. It is worth noting that it is one of only four such centres in the world—the others are in Singapore, New York and Beijing—and the first in Europe.
Scotland’s reuse sector is also developing. The Revolve brand, which sets out standards and quality for reused goods in Scotland, is operated by Zero Waste Scotland and partners such as the Community Recycling Network Scotland. Reuse is growing, and many of us will have bought used goods from eBay, Gumtree or elsewhere. We are familiar with that trend. Indeed, my officials tell me that there is a burgeoning industry in pre-loved luxury goods such as designer fashion and handbags—I take their word for it, as that is not something that I have personal experience of, but it is another example of what is happening out there.
With our rich heritage in textiles, Scotland is in a fantastic position to support the reuse sector. Only a few weeks ago, my colleague the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Aileen McLeod, attended an exhibition in her constituency at which small companies, including Hamish Mash Eco Fashion, were displaying some very smart clothes. Whether we are talking about the gearboxes that are remanufactured by Mackie’s, a family business in the east end of Glasgow, the computer hardware that is refurbished for reuse by Re-Tek in East Kilbride or the textiles that are upcycled into desirable clothing in Dalbeattie, we are talking about quality, everyday products that are being put on the market by credible, sustainable businesses. They are doing that in a way that keeps materials circulating in our economy, thereby reducing our reliance on new materials and new resources.
That complements the work that is already being undertaken as part of the resource efficient Scotland programme, which brings together support on energy, water and materials in a unique approach to help businesses and the public sector. All that activity represents substantial progress, which I intend to build on by bringing those issues together in a circular economy road map. I will publish that strategy and put it out to consultation in the next few months. It will set out the opportunities that suit the characteristics of Scotland as a nation on which we will focus our efforts.
The circular economy is about much more than recycling, but we are all familiar with recycling systems. As we all know, Scotland has some of the most ambitious recycling targets in the UK and beyond, and we aim to recycle 70 per cent of our waste by 2025. However, recycling quality is as important as quantity. Low-quality, contaminated recyclate is sold off cheaply, often abroad, and we must address that. It becomes a low-value commodity, and there is little motivation for householders to recognise the value in the products that they put in their recycling bins. High-value, clean recyclate can be kept in much higher-value use.
One example of what is happening is the work of Dryden Aqua, which is a small business in Midlothian that makes high-tech water filters from waste glass. I had the pleasure—around 18 months ago, I think—of visiting Dryden Aqua. It is an amazing, innovative Scottish company with an international reputation, but it faces a challenge in getting consistent and reliable sources of glass from our local authorities in sufficient quantities. It simultaneously highlights the opportunities of a more circular economy and some of the challenges in making that transition.
That is one of the reasons why I recently established the Scottish materials brokerage service. Despite its name, the service is an exciting idea, and it will bring stability for Scottish organisations in what can be a volatile market. It is all about bringing together materials in the quantities that are required to attract reprocessing infrastructure to Scotland. If all our local authorities and everyone else who collects those materials go through the brokerage service, the volumes will increase. Once there are the proper commercial volumes, we will, I hope, attract more reprocessing infrastructure to Scotland to be built by the commercial sector. That, in turn, would bring about a good income deal for local government in particular.
As I have indicated, glass is one of the priority materials for the new brokerage service to support ambitious companies in Scotland, such as Dryden Aqua. It does not make sense not to have the right collection systems in place for our glass when companies in Scotland can create more jobs and do more business if they can get their hands on that glass. That is why we are addressing those particular challenges.
There is also much to do to improve householder participation in recycling. I am very encouraged by the work of the zero waste task force, which I co-chair with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is the local government body. The task force has been considering how to reap the benefits of a more circular economy through the services that are provided by local government. It has agreed to develop a charter for more consistent recycling collections in Scotland to improve participation and recycling rates, but also to improve the quality of the recyclate that is collected in the first place, the importance of which I indicated before. I cannot say too much more about that at the moment ahead of the final task force meeting in a few weeks’ time, but I very much hope that the charter will be a significant step forward for recycling in Scotland.
We must remember that we have already picked the low-hanging fruit and we need to up our game on recycling. Simply more of the same will not capture the recyclate that otherwise will be wasted.
The question is often put to me whether the effort that is required to improve recycling outweighs the benefits and whether securing energy from waste, for instance, might be the preferred option in some circumstances. It is important that I am clear about that. Where there is genuinely no better use for materials, using them to generate heat and energy is always better than simply putting them into landfill—into big holes in the ground.
Once we have truly embraced a more circular economy, there may be some materials for which there really is no further use, and energy from waste will still be the only viable option. However, I believe that we are nowhere near that point. We do not want to direct materials down the waste hierarchy to disposal; rather, we want to move them up towards reuse and waste prevention in the first place. Indeed, we have to make the effort to find the game changers that we require that will create opportunities to do something better with our materials in this country. We have to be creative, and we want those ideas to come forward.
Recycling targets that are based on tonnage are pretty blunt instruments. Heavy materials score well on recycling rates, but they may not generate the greatest carbon benefits. Zero Waste Scotland has done some ground-breaking work on a carbon metric for materials to help to shape our future efforts to capture those with the greatest carbon impact. In parallel, it is assessing the scale of carbon savings that a more circular approach in our economy could achieve. We hope to publish the results of that work in due course.
We need to get the principles of a circular economy out to a much wider audience. The Scottish Government is working with Young Scot to organise a weekend event in June for young people to explore the concept of a circular economy. I am very much looking forward to hearing what our young people say and what comes out of that discussion. If anyone is going to come up with out-of-the-box ideas and game changers, it will, we hope, be our young people.
We have to ask ourselves what will engage the public to the same extent as the carrier bag charge that came into force last year, for example. The 5p charge was the subject of conversation throughout the country and it affected everyone in the country. We now see a reduction of between 80 and 90 per cent in bag use in some stores in Scotland.
The carrier bag charge is a small example of action towards a more circular economy. People are now reusing bags rather than demanding a new bag, and they are recognising their value in the first place and the impact on their pockets and the environment.
What is the next big thing that will help us towards a circular economy? What will engage the people of Scotland in action? I do not know whether this is the answer, but this morning Zero Waste Scotland published a report on the feasibility of a deposit return scheme for Scotland, whereby we put in something that we have used, such as a bottle, to go for recycling, and we then get some of our money back.
Is deposit return perhaps the next big thing in Scotland? It makes sense that we should consider such ideas. Deposit return schemes have worked in many countries throughout the world, such as Norway, Germany and Sweden. There are even some schemes in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.
One of the benefits of such schemes, which we should consider seriously, is the fact that they tackle litter as well as improving recycling. If we attach a value to the bottles and cans that we see on the streets, in our communities and in the wider environment, they are more likely to be recycled, as people get money for them. That would help clear up Scotland’s communities at the same time.
Our fishing industry is involved in a number of initiatives, particularly the fishing for litter initiative, although that is not so much about discards. The discard ban and the landing obligations that have already begun to come into force in Scotland pose challenges in dealing with the fish landed ashore, which has to be dealt with and cannot be sold commercially. I am confident that we will find sustainable good uses for it. That is certainly a waste issue. There are wider waste issues in many of our industries that we have to address.
The circular economy is an approach and a concept; it is about taking an overarching approach to everything that is happening within Scotland’s economy at the same time.
Deposit return schemes might be one big idea that we want to take forward. We will consider the outcome of the report that has been published this morning, and we will consult business, the public, environmental organisations and others as we decide how to take it forward.
It might even be worthwhile speaking to the rest of the UK, which I plan to do. Perhaps we should take a lead in Scotland and try to persuade the rest of the UK that, if we decide to take forward such a scheme, we should do it in conjunction with the rest of the UK. If we can persuade it to do so, that will help to address some of the big issues and costs at the same time. I will certainly open up those conversations with ministers elsewhere in the UK.
Other ideas have been brought forward. The spring 2015 edition of Zero Waste Scotland’s excellent newsletter “Towards Zero” has a whole lot of ideas in it. Lang Banks from WWF Scotland moots whether we can do more with universal adapters to help avoid the mountain of useless cables and chargers that we all have at home. Many other ideas have been brought forward.
I encourage everyone in the Parliament as well as the public and the rest of Scotland to participate in this debate and to recognise its importance to the future of Scotland’s economy, the environment and indeed Scotland’s global role. I want to encourage a debate on social media to flush out ideas, and in speaking to people I want to find the game changers that could help transform Scotland’s traditional economy into a circular economy. I very much look forward to constructive and creative contributions from members across the chamber.
That the Parliament notes the potential opportunities for Scotland of moving toward a more circular economy, in which products and materials are kept in high-value use for as long as possible; recognises that realising the substantial economic and environmental benefits means rethinking the way in which products and services are designed and procured; welcomes the progress made in establishing Resource Efficient Scotland, the Scottish Materials Brokerage Service and the Scottish Institute of Remanufacture, building on the Scottish Government’s Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources strategy, and believes that Scotland should continue to show leadership in this important area while proposals for EU-wide action emerge later this year.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government has called this debate and that we will thus be able to focus on how to take forward the circular economy, identifying opportunities and how to break down barriers to progress. A debate such as this is an opportunity for members and others with an interest to learn from each other by listening. That should lead to further clear action by the Scottish Government, local authorities, businesses and consumers.
Scottish Labour is supportive of working towards a circular economy. We have been determined to address the challenges that are posed by waste and resource use for many years. We brought in the first recycling targets in 2003, when Scotland relied on landfill for 91 per cent of its municipal waste and had deplorable levels of recycling, at 4 per cent. In that context, I look forward in particular to the findings of the task force on the issue of recycling, which the cabinet secretary raised.
Working towards the circular economy is key to dealing with a number of imperatives that must be addressed here and globally: concerns about climate change and the contribution of methane from landfill; the increasing scarcity of resources and the need to preserve them and share them justly on a global and national basis; and energy gaining. We are recovering energy from waste food, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, and in other ways.
We will support the Scottish Government’s motion today. I look forward to the circular economy road map in the autumn and hope that people across the chamber, across Scotland and beyond can contribute to that.
Focusing on our amendment, before contributing to the exploration of the way forward, I want to highlight current concerns about workers in the waste and resource use industry, as expressed in Unison Scotland’s survey of waste management staff, entitled “Dumped on: Working in Scotland’s waste management services”. Unison highlights the regulatory framework that governs waste management in Scotland, and its report notes that
“the amount of waste which will be required to be reused or recycled will continue to rise”, particularly as we move towards a circular economy. Concern is expressed that the concept of the circular economy, on top of existing regulations, will see budgets coming under further stress in the immediate future. Unison’s report states:
“Councils are already struggling to balance their budgets as they bear the brunt of cuts in overall expenditure. Within local government budgets there is little sign—despite increasing regulatory pressure—that councils seem in any way inclined to protect waste management spending.”
It also states:
“Waste management staff are vital to any kind of civilised life.”
I am sure that we all agree with that. It goes on to say of those staff:
“As we become ever more aware of the need to conserve resources their functions are becoming more of a social and political issue. This is not being reflected by how they are funded or treated and most definitely not in how they are paid.”
I want to highlight the current recycling targets. Twenty-three councils in Scotland failed to meet the Scottish Government target for recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2013. Will the cabinet secretary explain in his closing remarks how the Scottish Government is supporting the waste management requirements that are placed on local authorities now and as we move towards a circular economy, both to better support workers in the industry and to achieve targets that necessitate a shift in operational practices?
Starting in October 2013, the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee has been giving attention to understanding the circular economy; I admit that I had no idea about it until that time. Our inquiries led to a letter and written response last year from the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment.
The committee heard from Professor Walter Stahel of the Product Life Institute about a new economic model. He gave the example of Rolls-Royce, which changed from a model of selling engines and spare parts to selling power by the hour. He said:
“Under the new model, you make more profits by prevention. Basically, you want to keep the engines running, so you need to ensure that you have the lowest possible repair and maintenance costs ... Once you have done it, you are much better off, but the changeover is difficult.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 2 October 2013; c 2658.]
That is where Government advice and support are essential. “Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources: Blueprint for a More Resource Efficient and Circular Economy” will be helpful in that regard, and its 20-point action plan must underpin the way forward.
In May 2014, the committee focused on stakeholders, which further informed our understanding and thinking. We heard in evidence
“that public procurement offers a good opportunity to stimulate the design of circular products and support the uptake of different approaches to the provision of services, for example, through leasing, lending, repair and remanufacturing.”
Now that the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 has been passed for many months, it would be helpful to hear from the cabinet secretary about the development of the work of the Scottish Government’s procurement professionals and waste policy team, as he stated in his letter to the committee in August of last year that they
“will work closely together to examine opportunities and support the application of relevant sections of the Act to future procurements.”
The circular economy has been taken forward by the catalytic work of organisations and groups beyond Government, such as the Aldersgate Group and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The foundation has made a significant contribution to analysing the way forward in a series of papers, including “Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition”, which provides a real-terms exploration of how to achieve this change in perspective for businesses and consumers.
Calling the next five years the “pioneer phase”, it dissects the circular economy success stories to find their common enabling factors. Under the current linear model, businesses are at risk of supply disruption, soaring resource prices and volatile levels of demand and competition. A circular economy paints a much more promising picture for businesses and the consumer. Change in design will result in an increase in product choice and convenience, and a reduction in material and warranty costs; it will also have environmental benefits.
The committee heard from Scottish Enterprise, which has a strong role to play in helping Scotland to become a world leader. The economic opportunities are irrefutable, as evidenced by the members of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s circular 100, which includes many big household names in retail, the automotive industry and design.
The importance of support for product development cannot be emphasised enough. Approximately 80 per cent of a product’s environmental impact is decided by its very design. We must move away from technological obsolescence. Designing for regeneration will require the use of new materials such as biological ingredients that can eventually return to the biosphere. Alternatively, products must be developed using increasing modularity and being optimised for a cycle of disassembly and remanufacturing.
This step towards selling performance is an exciting opportunity for innovation. Studies show that taking up such an opportunity could be financially worth while. The waste prevention charity WRAP states that rapid development of circular economy activity
“could create around half a million additional jobs (gross) and reduce unemployment by around 102,000” by 2030. Furthermore, those jobs would spread across the country, particularly to places with higher numbers of unemployed people where manufacturing industry once thrived.
Our amendment emphasises the fact that new skills will need to be developed, and there is already innovation in Scottish further and higher education. The University of Strathclyde new industrial biotechnology facility is leading the way in research to innovate in and invigorate industry through manufacturing. To ensure continuing professional development for designers, Education Scotland aims to provide design residencies. Designers will gain understanding of the challenges of waste recovery and how to embed the circular theory in their work. The knowledge will assist in designing products to be resources rather than throw-away goods.
Education Scotland is working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to ensure that the necessary skills are identified for curriculum for excellence in our schools. That will link with eco-schools. I hope that we will see new projects for the circular economy even in our primary schools. Primary and secondary schools are engaging with renewable technologies, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics are being encouraged by the Scottish Government and others. Professor Stahel told the committee:
“The problem is partly one of education and values. We come to the philosophy of how we should educate young people to define their basic needs and to focus on quality.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 2 October 2013; c 2657.]
Support for behaviour change on the society-wide scale to develop community commitment and consumer awareness is, of course, essential if we are to succeed together in developing the circular economy with all its benefits. That is one of the 20 actions in the Scottish Government’s zero waste plan. If we can all work together to implement all those actions, we will indeed become a world leader in the circular economy and that will be to the benefit of everybody.
I move amendment S4M-13134.2, to insert after “procured”:
“; recognises the necessity of developing new and transferable skills with Skills Development Scotland and industry and educational partners; recognises concerns about the pressures experienced by those working in waste management services, as Scotland implements its waste strategy, leading to the circular economy, evidenced in Unison Scotland’s survey, Dumped on: Working in Scotland’s waste management services; further acknowledges the funding pressures experienced by local authorities in meeting recycling targets and developing new models; also recognises the role of the third sector in developing the circular economy”.
I am pleased to take part in the debate and I thank the organisations that gave us useful briefings in advance of the debate, including Viridor, the Scottish Retail Consortium, Sainsbury’s and the packaging recycling group Scotland.
We can all agree fully with the concept of a circular economy and the simple common sense of the idea that products and materials should be kept in high-value use for as long as possible. The whole developed world must reassess how it uses our planet’s resources and look again at our culture and attitudes towards waste.
In 2009, Sir John Beddington, the then chief scientific adviser to the UK Government, talked about a perfect storm coming in relation to demand on energy, water and food security. The current reality is that, if everyone on the planet lived like the average European, we would need three planets to live on. Our earth’s resources can only be expected to be under greater pressure in the years ahead as the global population rises, developing countries become more developed and we see a continued growth in the international middle classes who want the most modern consumer goods and an ever-higher quality of life. Indeed, it is estimated that there will be 3 billion of those new wealthier consumers by 2050—that is an incredible thought.
We recognise the work that is being done by the Scottish Government to develop the circular economy and the good work that is being undertaken by many Scottish businesses, charities and individuals, including in my region of the Highlands and Islands. We also recognise the potentially significant economic benefits to Scotland of moving to a circular economy. For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has estimated that the rolling out of anaerobic digestion technology to treat food waste in the UK could create 35,000 jobs. There is also considerable scope for job creation through the reuse, remanufacture and refurbishment of goods. The decommissioning of oil and gas installations in Scotland has the potential to create a substantial number of jobs as well.
The Scottish retail sector is to be commended for the real progress that it is making in improving resource efficiency, reducing waste and moving towards a circular economy. We recently debated the Scottish Retail Consortium’s excellent strategy, “A Better Retailing Climate: Driving resource efficiency in Scotland” in the chamber, and it seems clear that other sectors can learn from its good practices and examples. The briefing from Sainsbury’s for today’s debate talks about reducing waste in the home through its improvements in packaging—for example, the introduction of resealable packaging to reduce food waste and improved labelling guidance for home freezing, which now advises customers to freeze as soon as possible up to the use-by date instead of to freeze on day of purchase.
There are both current pressures and real challenges ahead for businesses working in the waste management sector and barriers that prevent other companies from being able to take actions that are part of the circular economy. I am delighted that Viridor, which works with 96 per cent of Scottish local authorities, has announced £357 million of Scottish investment in the past 18 months as part of an overall investment package of £500 million in Scotland. Viridor is, however, quite correct to warn that the declines in the value of commodities on global markets present a very big challenge to sustaining the progress that has been made to date and achieving the 2020 sector targets. In addition, Viridor highlights that the UK’s recycling technology and systems are ageing rapidly and that a new economic realism is required if we are to make further progress. Ministers need to heed the stark warnings from Viridor and address those concerns.
On the subject of the Scottish Government’s recycling targets, I am always reminded of an Inverness-shire constituent—he was also a councillor at the time—who said there should be no targets without markets. His point was that it is all very well to want to recycle, but there must be somewhere where people can recycle things. I have some sympathy with that view and agree that economic realism is also necessary.
My amendment simply seeks to put down a marker to avoid any additional, excessive regulation and costs falling on the private sector. Efficient regulation is also mentioned by Viridor as being very important, and the SRC refers to a number of regulatory barriers that can preclude innovation. We need to avoid creating any more regulatory barriers and costs, and I hope that all MSPs can support my amendment.
The recommendations that were made by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee to the cabinet secretary last May are useful. The committee was right to highlight the challenges in developing a collaborative approach when 32 local authorities and numerous businesses and third sector organisations are involved, with many of them taking different approaches.
Support for partnership working and co-operation is important. The cabinet secretary talked about UK co-operation; that would be good. The committee was correct to highlight that skills development is vital—Claudia Beamish’s amendment rightly focuses on that—and the suggestion of embedding the concept of the circular economy within the school curriculum and the university sector as part of the necessary overall raising of public awareness is a brilliant idea. Again, the Scottish Conservatives welcome the debate.
I move amendment S4M-13134.1, to insert after “strategy”:
“; urges the Scottish Government to work with Scottish businesses and their representative organisations to ensure that unnecessary regulations and bureaucracy are avoided”.
“The soft laws of economics are coming up against the hard laws of physics as we hit physical resource constraints. We now start to see that tomorrow’s growth will depend on making environment part of our economic policy”, and on making the transition
“now, in a managed way, rather than when we hit environmental limits, tipping points and catastrophes.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 20 June 2013; c 2464-5.]
Against that backdrop, surely it is therefore welcome that Scotland is recognised as being at the forefront of the circular economy movement in the UK and, internationally, as one of the early movers. As Dustin Benton of the Green Alliance, which earlier this year published the “Circular Economy Scotland” report, put it:
“Scotland is a long way ahead of other parts of the UK in its policy support for resource productivity” and is
“in a strong position to develop the technologies needed to capture high value, innovative manufacturing opportunities in a circular economy.”
However, in a global—never mind UK—sense, given how far we have to go and the obstacles that we need to overcome, it is realistic to acknowledge that we are still at the baby-step stage in our progress towards having a truly circular economy, although there is quite an exciting prospect in front of us.
During its extended and extensive evidence gathering on the circular economy, the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee heard of the opportunity for different approaches to be taken to the provision of services—for example, through leasing, lending, repairing and remanufacturing—all of which were very interesting.
I was particularly struck by the leasing option, not least because, in some regards, it would represent a return to a bygone era, rather like the cabinet secretary’s mention of a possible deposit return scheme for bottles. I recall that when I was a youngster in Aberdeen in the late 1960s, my parents leased our television set. It was quite a widespread practice then. I compare and contrast that with what happens nowadays, with many households purchasing widescreen TVs that litter family rooms and, in many cases, bedrooms, and recycling centres that are full of discarded sets as we move on to the next craze.
A major cultural change will be required to turn the clock back—
I am sorry, Presiding Officer.
To extend the conversation that I had over lunch, my recollection is that those early TV sets were leased because buying them would have been silly as they were so unreliable. Interestingly, we have now got to the point where we want to send them back because we want the latest version. I think that the model has changed.
There is no doubt that exploiting the opportunities of the circular economy could present a tremendous boost to both our local and national economies, to job creation, to our environment and to our well-being. At a time when we face huge environmental challenges, Scotland’s future must be a sustainable one and the principle that resources and materials should be kept in use for as long as they can be must be central to our thinking and practice. We must maximise the value and sustainability of our finite and precious resources and ensure that goods and products are designed with that in mind. Other members have highlighted some good examples.
Repairing, reusing, remanufacturing and recycling—we support the moves towards a circular economy because, quite simply, the current model of resource consumption is unsustainable. However, Scottish Labour’s amendment also highlights some of the pressures being experienced by those working in waste management services. Those have been highlighted by Claudia Beamish and Claire Baker. As we move towards a more circular economy it is important that we think about the knock-on effect on the people on the front line who are working to make it happen.
Unison Scotland’s survey “Dumped on: Working in Scotland’s Waste Management Services” tells us a story of increasing work pressures, as council budgets have been squeezed and the demands of the job change and grow. Many working in the sector are quite simply working harder for less, with the new initiatives that are being embraced making their jobs more demanding than ever, yet for less reward.
On top of that, to quote the Unison report directly,
“rubbish is a risky business”.
The Health and Safety Executive reports that, between 2004 and 2012, 97 workers and 19 members of the public lost their lives and almost 4,000 employees suffered major injuries. That shows that working in waste management and recycling is one of the UK’s most dangerous occupations. The HSE itself has said that action is needed to address
“the terrible toll of death, injury and ill health in the waste and recycling industry”.
It is a matter of huge concern that, at a time of rapid change in the industry, very little account appears to have been taken of the health and safety risk, and I echo Claire Baker’s request to the cabinet secretary to take more of a look at this area.
Although today’s debate goes much wider than recycling and managing waste, I think that we need to look at the knock-on effect on the people on the front line. Ambitious targets will be difficult to reach if they are not properly funded and if staff are demoralised and are not properly valued and rewarded for their vital work. I hope, therefore, that members will support Scottish Labour’s amendment and that we can take a further look at this area. After all, the staff who work in waste management provide an essential service to all of us, and it is time they received the recognition they deserve.
Members have already referred to the numerous briefings that we have received for the debate, and I am impressed by the work that Sainsbury’s says that it is doing to drive change in this area. It has said that it sends no waste to landfill as part of its 20x20 sustainability plan, which commits the company to putting all waste to positive use. Such initiatives by retailers are extremely welcome, because they not only encourage customers to reuse and recycle through the provision of recycling facilities for a wide range of household goods, from batteries and light bulbs to books and even Easter egg packaging, but ensure that retailers look at all the materials that are used in their operations throughout the supply chain and that they seek to refurbish furniture, shop-floor shelving, shopping trolleys and food crates. Those are all positive steps to address waste and resource efficiency and help progress and drive a circular economy
In conclusion—and it appears that I am not going to use up all my time this afternoon, Presiding Officer—the harsh reality in Scotland and around the world is that there is an ever-increasing demand for what are finite resources. Although embracing the circular economy will make Scotland more sustainable and offers us significant opportunities, we must also recognise that it is not a miracle solution. If everyone in the world consumed natural resources at the rate that we do in Scotland, we would need almost three planets—not just one—to support us. From the food that we eat, the air that we breathe, the fuel that we consume to the water that we drink, we rely on a healthy planet so that we can lead our lives. I therefore think it vital that, as well as embracing the circular economy, the Scottish Government also considers what more can be done to encourage Scots to consume less and better, to reduce our impact on the planet and to ensure that it has a sustainable future.
Scotland is already internationally recognised as an early mover to a more circular economy, but I want to look at certain issues that lie at the root of this matter. After all, this is all about reducing the amount of energy that we use and ensuring that we recycle and carry out the other activities associated with the circular economy at a scale that will allow it to be efficient.
Clearly, some of these matters are much more local than others, and what I have found interesting in the debate is the concern that has been expressed about local authority workers in the areas in question as well as workers in private firms. I wonder whether our local authorities could take a leaf out of the book of those in countries such as Norway that have formed their own companies to generate their own electricity—from hydro sources, in most cases—and get an income from that. Why can local authorities in this country not undertake commercial activities in areas such as anaerobic digestion? I know that various aspects of that are being trialled throughout the country, but those trials usually relate to on-farm anaerobic digestion and, as with recycling waste from gardens, it is far easier to do that sort of thing at municipal level. I believe that there are firms that could carry out that work, and if under the powers of general competence it were possible for local authorities to take such an approach, that would be a very good thing indeed.
The “Circular Economy Scotland” report, which shows how Scotland has been an early mover on the circular economy, has given us an opportunity to assess what we need to do to take things forward in a more general sense, and I think that one of the most exciting early moves that can be made in Scotland relates to remanufacturing activity, which has already been highlighted in members’ speeches.
I understand from reports that the best areas for recycling and remanufacture are the energy and automotive sectors, information and communications technology and mobile electronics and medical equipment. Those sectors produce products that are shared around but which can be recycled here. As they say, we have the technology to do that.
Remanufacturing in Scotland is dominated by the aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul sector. In addition to that sector, the top four sectors include the energy, rail and automotive sectors, as I said. Those sectors represent considerable opportunities, which we should not pass up.
On the issue of how people assess what we are doing in recycling and remanufacture, the Carbon Trust and the Knowledge Transport Network published a report in March this year pointing to the Scottish institute of remanufacture as a model of good practice for the UK and stating that the rest of the UK is lagging behind on remanufacturing.
When the cabinet secretary talked about us working with partners beyond our shores and with our neighbours to the south, he was talking sense. There are particular elements that can be recycled in that fashion.
The European Commission is considering a recycling policy. Its original policy was knocked back for being too unambitious and the Commission is due to publish a new approach later this year. The scenario is that ambitious member states can and should work together to make the most of the opportunities from a more circular economy, so as to give others a lead.
People do not need to approve of the concept of Europe—although I understand that most parties agree that they would want to be part of the market in Europe—to see that agreeing the Europe-wide measures would deliver economies of scale and support the remanufacturing, repair and recycling markets. Guaranteeing a supply of suitable products for a circular economic system increases financial returns from collection systems and gives businesses the confidence to invest in remanufacturing and reprocessing infrastructure or to use second-life components and materials. Those arguments were put forward on businessgreen.com, and they are part of that view in Europe that sees Scotland in a clear leading position.
Scotland already exceeds European Union requirements in several areas of recycling. We have a landfill ban on biodegradable waste and a landfill or incineration ban on separately collected recycling. In comparison, the UK Government has no recycling targets other than the EU 2020 target.
This is one of the issues that crop up again in relation to the constitution, because there are reserved and devolved issues that affect us. On traditional waste management issues, almost all powers are devolved to Scotland. However, as policy broadens into the circular economy, some reserved areas become important. EU negotiations are reserved—Scottish ministers can assist, but Whitehall calls the shots and has never put this cabinet secretary in the position of taking a lead on Britain’s behalf. Perhaps that is something that could change. Most national taxation is reserved—Scotland could not create a carrier bag tax but was able to require retailers to charge. Product standards are reserved—Scotland cannot require particular products that are sold in Scotland to have a set recycled content or minimum guarantee period but could require public bodies to set such criteria in their procurement processes. Product labelling is reserved—a deposit return study identifies that as an issue that would need to be resolved with the UK as part of any future scheme.
We can see that there are issues on which we need to have good intergovernmental co-operation. Those are the sort of practical things that new discussions about the settlement that is being worked out for the devolution of powers under the Smith agreement should consider, because they are issues on which it will be quite easy to get agreement and which will have a beneficial effect in terms of the circular economy.
I welcome the opportunity to support the Government’s motion and I hope that the debate increases awareness throughout Scotland of the circular economy. As a society, Scotland is becoming increasingly aware of its impact on the environment and the need to look after the finite resources we all depend on.
Every day, at home and at work, we all use and dispose of those resources, and too many of them end up being sent to landfill. In my constituency alone, an estimated £0.5 million is spent every year by Falkirk Council on sending resources to landfill that could have been recycled. I use the word “resources” deliberately to highlight that Scotland needs a cultural change to achieve a circular economy. It is not waste, rubbish or excess packaging that we throw away but a valuable resource, which takes time, energy and money to recreate.
Although more can and will be done to bring Scotland closer to being a zero waste country with a circular economy, credit must be given to the Scottish Government for the huge progress that it has made towards those goals to date. The Government’s focus on the economic and environmental opportunities of better resource management has led to the creation of a national waste brokerage service. It has also highlighted the importance of international co-operation, because a circular economy requires changes to the material supply chains of national as well as multinational companies.
The use of Scottish Enterprise and Zero Waste Scotland to support a wide range of companies in the development of new markets for waste materials and products, and the use of public procurement as a tool to increase the market for refurbished and remanufactured products, all indicate that the Scottish Government’s approach to the circular economy represents much more than just domestic recycling rates.
The leadership that our Government has shown in this area has led to the recognition by the international community that Scotland is at the forefront of the circular economy movement in the UK—the cabinet secretary alluded to that in his opening speech. I am delighted to hear that the Scottish Government will continue that leadership and share its hope that the forthcoming revised proposals from the European Commission for an EU circular economy strategy later this year will be more ambitious than the previous ones.
In my constituency, the amount of waste collected has decreased over the past five years, and more than 50 per cent of the waste produced is now recycled or composted. We have met our target and dramatically cut the amount of waste that we have thrown away into landfill sites. However, we must continue to improve on that and work towards a truly zero waste country. It is the job of the Scottish Government and all of us, as MSPs, as well as our local authorities, to show leadership in this area and continually to provide pragmatic solutions to improve waste management.
Although I welcome and support the Scottish Government’s progress with a circular economy, I believe that, at the moment, there is a limited connection with the local authority’s process of collection waste and the process of remanufacturing those resources to create a circular economy. That said, my local authority very much has the circular economy on its radar.
Above all, we must make the connection at a cultural level and recognise that everything that we use and throw away is a resource that has a value. We should introduce into the mindset of every citizen the idea that we must preserve, capture and use resources wherever possible. It makes environmental and economic sense.
It is hoped that those points will form part of the Scottish Government’s plans to move away from a traditional “linear” economy of make, use and dispose, to an economy that recovers and regenerates products and materials at the end of their service life. Simply put, an economy in which resources are used for a short time and disposed of and then new resources are introduced is unsustainable. We must address that through greater resource efficiency, where waste is minimised. By reusing, repairing, remanufacturing and recycling products and materials over and over again, we can ensure a more circular economy. My local authority, Falkirk Council, readily acknowledges that in its zero waste strategy for 2012 to 2022.
There are long-term benefits for business, too. It is recognised that Scottish businesses can save more than £1.4 billion simply by being more resource efficient. We must ensure that Scotland gets its fair share of the £1.3 trillion global benefit that the creation of circular economies can bring.
The Scottish Government has set out its zero waste plan, which establishes a vision for a zero waste society. It aims to bring a step change in how we use resources. The plan is supported by ambitious climate change legislation. I hope that there will be equally ambitious legislation to promote a circular economy and support action by businesses, householders and local authorities not just to recycle and reduce waste, but to improve their efficient use of resources.
The materials captured from recycling offer many business opportunities, from recycling and reprocessing to manufacturing, but achieving a zero waste country needs the commitment and resolve from each and every one of us. People in our communities are taking action to prevent waste and to use resources more efficiently. They are the champions of change. I am convinced that we as MSPs must lead the way, supporting those in our communities willing to take on the zero waste challenge.
I welcome and support the Scottish Government’s action to date. A circular economy—a zero waste economy—is a realistic and achievable goal. More than that, it is a fundamental requirement and obligation of our generation if we are to give the next generation the same quality of life that we enjoy.
It is an undeniable fact that the majority of resources that we use are not renewable. We are increasingly at risk from resource scarcity and price volatility, which ultimately affects the poorest in our society the worst.
Over that past 10 years, we have seen a dramatic shift from access to cheap raw materials to restrictions on raw materials such as rare earth metals. We have also seen a doubling of food prices, a trebling of metal prices, and a quadrupling of energy prices. With the continued expansion of the global population and the development of the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—and other newly advancing economies, we cannot meet the growing resource demands in the same way we did in the 20th century by simply expanding extraction.
Let us ensure that everyone shares the Scottish Government’s enthusiasm for the circular economy; let us support those in our communities who are willing to take on the zero waste challenge; and let us embrace Professor Walter Stahel’s cradle-to-cradle approach, by designing goods for reuse, remanufacture and recycle as part of a strategy to improve resource efficiency and create jobs.
Waste affects every one of us. Every day, at home and at work, we acquire, use and dispose of resources. As individuals and organisations, we are becoming increasingly aware of our impact on the environment and the need to look after the precious resources that we all depend on.
Most people in Scotland will be aware of the mantra to reduce, reuse and recycle. Many of us have taken that to heart and are thinking global and acting local by recycling as much of our domestic waste as is possible given our local circumstances.
In the domestic setting, we can all do our best to buy fewer heavily packaged goods, avoid the two-for-one offers that see too much food wasted, reuse plastic carrier bags and learn to switch off lights, walk to the local shops and use public transport. We can recycle food waste on the compost heap and recycle old clothes and household goods at the charity shop. We might have cut our air miles by having staycations or reduced our business miles by videoconferencing.
With all that going on, we could be forgiven for thinking that the Scottish Government and the Scottish people are doing enough to protect the planet. Scotland has made huge progress on waste. We have cut dramatically the amount of waste that we throw away in landfill sites, and recycling rates have soared.
However, when the Scottish Government published its first zero waste plan in 2010, it recognised that everything that we use and throw away is a resource that has a value that we should try to preserve, capture and use again whenever possible. To do that, we must tackle all Scotland’s waste and not just the waste that local authorities collect and manage, which is less than a fifth of all waste.
Many councils have failed to meet their landfill targets. There are many reasons for that, which are to do mainly with the challenges of increasing public awareness and commitment, contamination at the point of collection, the increased cost of collection and the cost of dealing with the methane gas produced by landfill sites.
Therefore, we need to seek commitment to and resolve for a zero waste Scotland from every one of us, and that commitment needs to extend beyond the domestic and public sector context. We need to take a strategic perspective and adopt a whole-system approach—the circular economy approach.
A circular economy is a system whereby materials are retained in use for as long as possible, which practically eliminates waste. Materials and energy are optimised, and goods and components are reused, repaired and remanufactured. That protects the supply of key materials, supports a sustainable supply of raw materials and boosts resource efficiency and recycling.
I first heard about the concept of a circular economy when the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee had an evidence session with the then European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, who usefully set out the broader context. He said:
“The transition to resource efficiency and a circular economic model is inevitable, particularly for Europe.”
He went on to say:
“Developing a new economy that has sustainability at its heart and is based on a more efficient use of our natural resources will create jobs, support competitiveness and cut costs while preserving the health of our environment. Frankly, there is no reasonable alternative to that approach.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 20 June 2013; c 2465, 2468.]
He recommended that we make a change now, before our environment is even more limited.
The committee also heard from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that a policy on a circular economy should not be a subset of environmental policy but sit at the heart of the development of sustainable economies and communities, and that Scotland, with its small, adaptable economy, is well placed to adopt that approach. In my view, such a change in perspective would radically shift the thinking on economic development at every level.
I was pleased when, in January, the Green Alliance published “Circular Economy Scotland”, which Zero Waste Scotland commissioned. The report highlighted the opportunities that exist to create a circular economy in two sectors—the oil and gas sector and the food and drink sector—and it outlined a series of measures that players in those sectors could take. The report illustrated a move away from the make-use-dispose approach to one that involves extracting the maximum value from resources at each stage of the process, then recovering and regenerating products and materials so that a continuous loop is created. That change in attitude and approach will have implications for how we think about design, for the skill requirements of such an economy and for Scotland’s future workforce.
It is clear that, as the report rightly highlighted, the finance sector and Government policy relating to finance have a major role to play in enabling that change of emphasis. Attitudes to how we as a society—and as consumers and producers—perceive, define and quantify value and measure return on investments will have to change. The third sector and the social enterprise movement have been championing such concepts for many years, so it is reassuring that they are being brought into the main stream.
In preparing for the debate, I read the many briefings that MSPs have been sent. I was struck by the efforts that are being made across Scotland to put into practice the circular economy’s principles, and it is clear that long-lasting change can be achieved only if we adopt the whole-system approach and examine in detail the overall process, regardless of the type of business. There are challenges for all sectors in progressing the approach, one of which is how they will develop sustainable business models that maximise the potential of every resource at their disposal—of course, those resources include their workforce and their customers.
I cannot do better than quote from the report of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “Scotland and the Circular Economy”, which said:
“The world is undergoing an unprecedented period of resource stress, driven in part by the scale and speed of demand growth from emerging economies and a decade of increasingly constrained commodity markets.”
Doing nothing is not an option. I commend the work that has been done and I look forward to seeing what unfolds as we move forward.
This is a fascinating debate for those of us who have—as I have—been worrying about waste for a long time. In my first existence as a chemical engineer, the proper use of materials and in particular of energy was on my timetable at college, never mind in my working life.
We have rightly started with waste management, because that is the obvious place to start. From waste management, we get into material recycling, because that is obviously the thing to do. I am grateful to Angus MacDonald for pointing out for the first time in the debate that such materials should be regarded as resources. We should not regard anything as waste until we can think of nothing else to do with it.
We are really talking about limited resource use. Some things are not limited. We are not short of water or sunshine—although we cannot see the sun on days such as this—but almost everything else that looks solid is a limited resource, and we need to use such resources properly.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s zero waste task force and recognise that industry has to be nudged in the right direction. Although public bodies pick up the bits, industry manufactures the goods that need to be zero waste and circular from design.
Materials brokerage is absolutely fine. That is where we must be and where we must go but, with a rising world population, rising energy costs and a reducing supply of raw materials—especially of things that are already rare—we can see that we are fast approaching the point at which we must reuse, as we will have no option. Jayne Baxter eloquently made the point that we do not know quite when that will be, but we may as well start to reuse now.
Dave Thompson started by talking about his days as a lad. I well remember the things that we used to do, although in a very different part of the country. The food system is a classic case of an already cyclical system. Everything that we eat will, one way or another, finish up back in the ground to grow the next lot of things that we eat. The sun is the only energy input that is needed for that—I shall keep going at the theme of energy input, because it is the basic thing that we cannot avoid. That is why the planet is green, why it carries on and why it will carry on.
Production can be enhanced if another source of energy can be found. I forget who discussed fertiliser, which we can manufacture. Curiously, it is the nitrogen from the atmosphere and water that is turned into ammonium nitrate, which is the principal fertiliser. All that is needed is some energy. If energy comes from the sun, it is renewable. That part can be enhanced by totally renewable and natural processes.
In that context, I cannot avoid the fact that phosphorus, which is the other material that farmers need as fertiliser—as the Presiding Officer very well knows—is concentrated in the ground and has to be mined. That brings its own economic problems, but once it is out, it stays in the ecosystem.
I looked at the lists of raw materials that people have already decided at an international level we are short of, which nobody has yet mentioned—perhaps because of what is on the lists, although I as a chemist am not worried by that. Those materials are all metallic elements, with the exception of fluorspar and graphite. That was in a European Union study in 2010, I think.
The 2011 Scotland study finished up with aggregates—they are stones to us—as well as fish, palm oil, which must be substitutable, and timber. Everything else was a metallic element. I find it strange that some of the things that we are short of in Scotland are abundant in the world. There was a strange disparity between the two lists, but perhaps that is for another day.
We need more than regulation to reduce waste; we need a change in mindset. Going from waste to less waste to even less waste can come by Governments simply regulating and nudging and by us doing the things that we are already doing. Getting to the point at which there is complete reuse and a cyclical economy requires a change of attitude, which we must encourage.
I think that customers could cope with that. I would be happy if somebody provided me with a car that I knew they would eventually take back and re-engineer. If they had to do that, they would ensure that the original manufactured materials were in as refined a condition as they could be so that the minimum effort would be needed to recycle them.
That is a crucial point that I can maybe explain better by considering the humble plastic bag. We decided very recently that the ordinary plastic bag—I should have an example in my hand, but members know fine well what I am talking about—is not a terribly good thing. It is commendably light and does not cost a great deal, and one bag does not use huge resources, but we know that it is easily lost and broken. It then becomes pretty much unrecyclable, so it is bad news, and we have done what we know about.
What would I like to replace that bag with? Instinctively, we would think, “Give me one of those hemp ones—one of those natural materials.” I suspect that we all have such a bag, which we know will last a long time and which is the right shape and size. When it eventually falls to bits, the natural raw material will degrade and go back into the environment. We can convince ourselves that that is not a bad thing, and we would be right.
What would be even better would be a plastic bag. As long as it is made of one pure plastic that is resilient, we can use it for even longer and, when it finally becomes unserviceable, we can recycle it. As the material is pure, it does not need to be refined. All that we need is a bit of heat input to turn it back into in effect the raw material, from which we can manufacture the next plastic bag.
As I said—there is a theme here—we cannot avoid using energy, but we do not have to use anything else. The best replacement for my shopping bag would be made of a single plastic—a single polymer—that I can reuse for a long time and then recycle specifically to produce the same material again. If it can be reprocessed, that is relatively easy. If it needs to be refined, that requires energy, and that is what we need to avoid.
I am grateful to Graeme Dey for bringing up washing machines, which I have what is probably an unhealthy interest in. When I worked in the detergents industry, I knew more than one would reasonably want to know about washing machines and I am not going tell members it. However, I assure members that I really do not want to own one. I would much rather rent one because, if I did, the person who manufactured it would want to build in reliability, as it would not be in his interests for it to break down. He would use the right materials. If he had to take the machine back at the end of the day, he would use pure materials so that, when he had to recycle it, it would not have to be refined; it could just be taken apart and the bits could be reused as they stood. The only input, apart from a little bit of manpower, would be energy. I will not repeat the point.
We have heard about Rolls-Royce and aero engines. That is magnificent, because Rolls-Royce now concentrates on making reliable engines, which is good because we do not want planes to fall out of the air anyway. If the engines keep running for even longer, that is good, because it is cheaper. I bet that Rolls-Royce has also given serious thought to how it makes them reusable. If all those carefully machined bits—there are lots of them—can be reused in the next machine, or if they are made from a pure material that does not have to be refined when it is recycled, that becomes cheaper for Rolls-Royce, so it will automatically do all the right things.
I have managed to avoid using the word “thermodynamics”, but that is what I was just talking about. If we can keep it simple and not mix things, and if we have a renewable source of energy, we can do things efficiently and effectively. We cannot avoid using energy, but we have to avoid putting in the complexity of mixing things. As I hope I have explained, if we get this right, it is a win-win, because we finish with more reliable bits of machinery and everything else. That costs us less and saves the planet.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I will try to follow Nigel Don’s lead on that.
This has been a really interesting debate, particularly for me, because—hands up—I really did not know much about the matter at all. The first reference to the circular economy that I heard was in an interview with Ellen MacArthur on BBC Radio 4 on the car radio a few weeks ago. I was amazed by just how much I got into it and how interesting I found what she was talking about. Overwhelmingly, it is just common sense; what was being said seemed very sensible to me.
Rob Gibson and I were smiling wryly earlier at talk of days gone by, and we were saying that things go in circles right enough, because we both clearly remember collecting lemonade bottles in Glasgow and taking them back to the shops so that we would have enough money to go to the cinema, but not together, I hasten to add; Rob is that wee bit older than me.
Things do go in circles, and Dave Thompson spoke about the raggy manny and other things that some of us have memories of. Much of that was related to coming out of the war years, but we have certainly moved from a culture of reuse, recycling—although we did not call it that—and remanufacturing into one of in-built obsolescence and throwing things away without batting an eyelid. It is something that we need to talk about now, and remanufacturing, recycling and reuse affect all the things that we know are problematic for our world today and in the future, including emissions and water and energy use. The circular economy can also mean having lower input costs if we do those things wisely.
I looked around my constituency of East Kilbride, because I knew that there were some good examples of such things happening there, but I was stunned to find out just how much goes on in my local area. I reckon that every member who looks at their constituency or region will find many good examples of larger companies and smaller organisations all doing things that work towards the circular whole that we are looking for.
In Langlands Moss in my area, most of which lies in Claudia Beamish’s region, the walkways across the peat bog have all been made out of pellets made from rubber tyres. I am not convinced that the construction industry yet takes full advantage of recycling and reuse. I am thinking of building materials from old buildings that could be much better reused, rather than throwing up new kit houses all the time using brand new materials. There are some good examples, but we could do better.
There is a wonderful charity in my area that runs a scheme called house of hope, which as well as recycling aluminium cans does great work in recycling, remanufacturing and doing up furniture that people donate so that it can be bought, and it looks fantastic. Lots of initiatives are being pulled together, and I hope that the Government’s launch of the Scottish institute of remanufacture, the Scottish materials brokerage service and resource efficient Scotland will help to pull all that together and look at all elements of it, so that we can achieve the targets that we all aspire to. Of course, Zero Waste Scotland has been excellent in pulling a lot of that stuff together.
Claire Baker mentioned Coca-Cola Enterprises, which is in my constituency of East Kilbride. Coca-Cola Enterprises has an excellent waste-management record, although I took on board some of Claire Baker’s comments about how to move stuff that is recycled, which is one of the things that we must look at in general to ensure that everything fits together in the circular economy. Coca-Cola Enterprises has let me know that it is the largest user of food-grade recycled PET—polyethylene terephthalate—plastic and aluminium in Scotland. Its supply chain buys glass, plastics and metals from all over the local area for reprocessing and filling at the plant in East Kilbride.
I am interested in what Linda Fabiani says about Coca-Cola Enterprises, because I have met its representatives on one or two occasions and they have drawn my attention to the fact that they have concerns about the possibility of a deposit and return scheme because they believe that it would reduce the amount of material that they need for their own recycling programme. Is that a discussion that she has had with that company?
Yes it is, and it is an interesting discussion. That is why I think that it is crucial never to look at just one element; we have to look at the bigger picture and the overall effect of all those things and how they tie in. The circular economy is a good term to use, and I am sure that the advice that the cabinet secretary has put in place for organisations will help us to have that discussion so that we do the best for everyone.
There is one thing about Coca-Cola that still fascinates me. Its sponsorship of the London Olympics supplied the Olympics with Coca-Cola soft drinks, and all the bottles and cans that came back to it from that went through the recycling process quickly enough to be reused during the Paralympics in the same location. That is real innovation.
Another big employer in East Kilbride is Sainsbury’s, in conjunction with DHL. At their main site in East Kilbride, they also have a recycling plant, which is excellent. What really strikes me about that is the workforce’s pride about what they are doing on that site, whether they work for DHL or Sainsbury’s.
Sainsbury’s also does something with food that has not been mentioned much here today. I do not know what the word is but it is certainly not “recycling”. It donates food and makes sure that food waste is not just dumped. Dave Thompson talked earlier about what used to happen with food waste from school dinners and so on when we were kids. For example, 100 per cent of Sainsbury’s unsold bread is turned into animal feed. It all contributes. I understand that—outside of what is left at Oxfam’s shops—Sainsbury’s is the largest provider to Oxfam of clothing, accessories, books and DVDs.
In looking at information for today’s debate, I came across something else that absolutely fascinated me. A company in East Kilbride called Re-Tek was highlighted as part of the launch of Zero Waste Scotland’s circular economy business models programme. The company has 32 employees and a turnover of £3.3 million a year from repairing and refurbishing functional used information technology products. That is certainly something that I want to learn a lot more about and, if the company is quite happy that I do so, I intend to visit it. If the cabinet secretary has not already been, perhaps that is the kind of initiative that he would like to join me in visiting.
All in all, we have a fairly good story to tell. The cabinet secretary mentioned the low-hanging fruit that make things a bit easier when we start off, but as time goes on things get a bit harder. There is commitment and people are now getting it. Perhaps they do not get the terminology, however. I was up-front about not knowing what the circular economy was until a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps there is an issue about using language that people understand more readily so that it is immediately apparent to dumplings like me. That starts with schools and young people. East Kilbride has good form on that. Calderglen high school, Duncanrig secondary school, St Andrew’s and St Bride’s high school and Sanderson high school all take very seriously zero waste policies and how to achieve them.
At this point, I mention Viridor and the Engineering Development Trust who, every year, conduct schools competitions at which East Kilbride schools perform very well. It is about translating zero waste policy into practice and coming up with good projects. I will make quick mention of Calderglen high school, which won the Lanarkshire heat of the companies’ Go4SET competition this year. I look forward to supporting it in the final very soon.
I am delighted to take part in today’s debate. In my speech, I will focus on some of the work that has been carried out in North Ayrshire in developing a circular economy and in meeting the zero waste and renewable energy targets that were outlined by the Scottish Government.
It is disappointing that 23 Scottish councils failed to meet the Scottish Government’s recycling targets. The target was to ensure that by 2013 50 per cent of all household waste was being recycled, with further targets of 60 per cent by 2020 and 70 per cent by 2025. There was an additional target of reducing the proportion of waste going to landfill to a maximum of 5 per cent. North Ayrshire Council not only met but exceeded the target by 2012-13 and achieved a recycling and composting rate of over 53 per cent. In addition, it has reduced the amount of waste going to landfill by 17,000 tonnes since 2008. North Ayrshire Council seems to be one council that is well on its way to meeting future targets, and I hope that that continues.
Meeting the targets has been achieved through a number of initiatives; I will discuss two of them. First, I will focus on the work that North Ayrshire Council is doing with Cunninghame Furniture Recycling Company. The local authority encourages residents to send their unwanted good-quality household goods to the company, which then re-homes the items across Ayrshire. That new service moves waste material up the waste hierarchy and feeds into the circular economy. It is built around North Ayrshire Council’s waste strategy, which is one of the first to include a reuse target. The project helps to meet targets for the number of household items going to landfill as well as promoting reuse. It also provides employment and training opportunities in North Ayrshire. Over the past three years, 39 unemployed residents have been provided with either paid employment or training opportunities, with 70 per cent leaving to go on to positive destinations.
As of March 2015, the project had won the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ excellence gold award for strong and sustainable communities and had collected 360 tonnes of furniture from more than 2,500 collections, selling in excess of 5,700 items of furniture and white goods and assisting around 2,850 low-income families to furnish their homes on a budget. The charity has generated almost £190,000 of income from sales of furniture and recycled goods and has carried out almost 1,000 house clearances, void cleans and estate maintenance projects, which has generated £174,000.
Cunninghame Furniture Recycling Company seems to be going from strength to strength and is an excellent example of how the circular economy can work while providing opportunities for people who are on low incomes or out of work. I wish the team all the best for the future and hope that other councils will start to invest in similar schemes in their areas.
The second example that I will focus on is the Barkip anaerobic digestion plant, which was, when I visited it, the largest combined organic waste treatment and energy generating facility in Scotland. The plant not only helps us to meet renewable energy targets but assists in meeting diversion-from-landfill targets. It produces around 2.2MW of renewable electricity from waste foods, manures and organic effluent sludge. It does so by using bacteria to break down the waste to produce methane-rich biogas, which is then combusted in gas engines to generate electricity. Members might imagine that there would be a lot of waste lying around, but the plant is absolutely spotless. All the heat that is generated in the process is recovered from the engines.
Each year, the plant can process up to 75,000 tonnes of organic and food waste, which is turned into electricity instead of going to landfill. Furthermore, the Barkip plant was the first of its kind to incorporate a novel digestate processing stage, which produces a low-cost fertiliser to support local agriculture that meets PAS—publicly available specification—110. In my view, that is another great example of how the circular economy can work.
I have offered two very different examples that I believe are exemplary in sustaining the circular economy and which could be replicated across Scotland. They may seem to be old hat compared with some of the projects that we have heard about today, but they are equally important. Perhaps they are not as sexy as the cabinet secretary’s handbags and glad rags, but they are essential if we are to meet our targets.
The Cunninghame Furniture Recycling Company project is grass-roots and community based; it provides jobs and helps low-income families while contributing to the local economy and reducing waste. I urge other councils to look into setting up similar projects.
On the other hand, the Barkip anaerobic digestion plant is an example on a much larger scale, which is contributing to renewable energy targets and landfill reduction targets while helping local agriculture. I believe that we should be considering investing in that form of technology across Scotland as part of our commitment to renewables and zero waste.
I agree with my colleagues across the chamber that there are many benefits in moving from a linear economy towards a more circular economy. We cannot simply apply 19th century solutions to the challenges that our country faces in a resource-constrained 21st century. Decoupling economic activity from the use of resources demands smart solutions—solutions circulating around the efficient use of resources while fostering future economic prosperity.
With new technologies come new risks. I believe that to successfully transform our economy, we need to consider all aspects of what a circular economy encompasses. We should consider which economic sectors in Scotland can benefit most from a circular economy model and aim to maximise the resulting social and environmental advantages.
The Scottish Government has taken the first steps towards facilitating circular and performance-based economic measures. As in the renewable energy sector, Scotland has been internationally recognised for its efforts. Nonetheless, we should have a look at developments in other countries, in particular the Nordic countries, as they have been the forerunners in implementing policies based on circular economy principles and waste management.
Today, Scotland’s remanufacturing industry alone is worth £1.1 billion and employs 23,000 people. Yet, as has been set out in the “Circular Economy Scotland” report, Scotland’s economy has the potential to profit to a far greater extent from a circular economy approach. In place of repeating what the report says, I want to talk about one of its core messages: co-operation between key players. First, co-operation is crucial to enable innovation to move from the lab into the markets, thus close links between public research, companies, investors and enterprise agencies speed up the process. Secondly, co-operation among different economic sectors is fundamental to cross-facilitate the reuse, remanufacturing or recycling of products and resources. Efficient co-operation and co-ordination between stakeholders can unlock the potential of a performance-oriented economy that produces high-quality products.
One example of such co-operation focuses on reusing and putting value into by-products from whisky distillation. Draff—the spent grain that is left over from distilling, mixed with pot ale—is already used by some distilleries to produce methane, which is consequently used to fuel the distilling process. In 2013, Diageo’s distillery at Cameronbridge opened its bioenergy facility, which now covers 95 per cent of the site’s energy demands. Additionally, the whisky by-product can be made into protein meal for fish farming, displacing fish meal. According to the “Circular Economy Scotland” report, that idea has the potential to generate £140 million.
Apart from the economic gains, I want to emphasise two further aspects that highlight the advantages of a circular economy: the social and environmental benefits. The social benefits are manifested through boosting employment levels and creating new fields in the labour market. Jobs that arise in the remanufacturing and recycling sector are deemed to be permanent, as they are characterised by and go hand-in-hand with a structural economic shift. Generating demand for labour, and thereby investing in human capital, has many positive implications for society as a whole. The environmental benefits are self-evident. Increasing resource efficiency leads to a reduction in landfill waste, and the close connection to the renewable energy sector further boosts the proportion of renewables in the energy mix.
The social and environmental advantages of a circular economy have been emphasised in a recent report, “The Circular Economy and Benefits for Society”, published by the Club of Rome. The authors of the report studied the impact on Sweden of implementing a circular economy approach, and their findings are astonishing. They found that Sweden could increase material efficiency by 25 per cent overall if it organised manufacturing along the lines of a materially efficient circular performance-based economy.
The study suggests that that can result in the creation of 50,000 new jobs. If, in addition to that, Sweden focused on maximising energy efficiency by 25 per cent as well as increasing its share of renewables in the energy mix from 50 per cent at present to 75 per cent in future, a further 50,000 jobs—resulting in an economic benefit of €10 billion a year—could be achieved.
However, the authors stress that
“A lot of investments will be needed to make the decoupling-possibilities and, hence, a more sustainable economic structure come true.”
It is clear, therefore, that a linear economy does not simply transform itself into a circular performance-based economy. Deliberate policy measures and targeted investments are—as so often—the key to success.
I want to focus again on our Nordic neighbours. Through a special focus on reducing food losses, on the collection of textiles for reuse and recycling and on improving plastic recycling rates, the Nordic Council of Ministers has set itself key targets. It evaluates progress regularly, which allows for constant improvements and enables it to learn from unavoidable mistakes. As an example, the council soon realised that for plastic collection and recycling a one-size-fits-all solution is impractical, and different collection systems need to be put in place at the local level.
Scotland too has been proactive, and I welcome the Government’s steps towards a circular economy. The Scottish Government has set itself a target of reducing waste by 7 per cent by 2017 and 15 per cent by 2025, in comparison with 2011. Some improvements can already be seen. Between 2012 and 2013, the total amount of household waste generated fell by 3.5 per cent, resulting in a 20 per cent reduction since 2007.
In addition, the Scottish Government aims to recycle 70 per cent of all of Scotland’s waste by 2025, which is the most ambitious target in the UK. Scotland has also joined the global network through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s circular economy 100 programme. The introduction of the single-use carrier bag charge has been a milestone, and has raised awareness among Scots of the simple measures that each and every one can take to reduce waste and reuse items.
Over the past few years, my constituency of Kirkcaldy in Fife has made considerable efforts to increase recycling levels. Statistics indicate that people are becoming more aware of recycling. In 2013, households in Fife recycled more than 55 per cent of their household waste, which puts the region ahead in comparison with the rest of Scotland. In addition, up to 70 per cent of all waste in Fife is now further recycled, thereby reducing the amount of landfill waste. Paper is recycled into low-grade paper and cardboard products, and food and garden waste is transported to an anaerobic digestion plant in Dunfermline.
One organisation in particular that I want to mention is Greener Kirkcaldy. Among its other projects, Greener Kirkcaldy works with local constituents and provides them with information on recycling and reusing old materials. In its eco-shop on Kirkcaldy High Street, the charity encourages individuals, families and businesses to take action towards a more sustainable lifestyle. It also offers a sew-and-repair service, and a sewing skills and upcycled garments workshop. Just last week, Greener Kirkcaldy celebrated international compost awareness week. The organisation’s work is truly inspiring, and I welcome its commitment to foster awareness of recycling in Kirkcaldy.
Notwithstanding the good work that is being done, more measures should follow to raise awareness of the importance of recycling and reusing of materials. We need further improvements to our infrastructure to facilitate waste management and support the remanufacturing industry. We should follow the Nordic countries in regularly reviewing our approaches to assure a lasting impact. The achievement of a lasting impact is also determined by the level of co-operation between all relevant stakeholders, most notably the public and private sectors.
We cannot continue to extract resources as we have done. As I said at the beginning of my speech, innovation comes with many challenges, but I am confident that Scotland has the potential and determination to foster and develop smart solutions and to continue to drive policies based on a circular economy model.
Like Claudia Beamish, I had not come across the concept that we are debating until the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee started looking at it in 2013. However, I have to say that at first sight the idea of a circular economy seems such a simple no-brainer of a principle that one wonders how any other type of economy could have emerged over the decades and centuries that have gone by.
Of course, times have changed—particularly very recent times—and we no longer live in a world of apparently infinite resources, manageable demand and very limited wealth. Suddenly, we are faced with a world of very limited resources, almost unquenchable demand and ever-increasing wealth of individuals and nations.
That is the backdrop that demands a rethink of how we look at the traditional process of making, using and disposing, as others have defined the linear economy, and demands that we move to a circular economy model whereby we keep resources in use for as long as is humanly possible, extract the maximum value from them while they are in use and then recover and regenerate
“products and materials at the end of each service life.”
Like Angus MacDonald, I am indebted to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, or WRAP, for providing that definition of a circular economy, which accurately and neatly sums up exactly what the debate is all about. At its most simple, it is out with the disposable world that we inhabit and in with a new world that we need to inhabit if the world’s increasingly scarce resources are to satisfy its rapidly growing population.
As other members have pointed out, global statistics tell it all: by 2030, demand for water will have grown by 41 per cent, for steel by 80 per cent and for energy by 33 per cent. We will need to extract 75 per cent more raw materials by 2040 if we keep using them at the current rate. The most chilling statistic of all, which Jamie McGrigor highlighted, is that if the world’s entire population had the same standard of living as the average European has, we would need two additional planets to keep us going.
The more we look into this, the more we realise that not moving towards the circular economy model is not an option. However, the hard part comes with the question—I think that Claire Baker pointed this out—of how we move towards the circular economy. It is definitely not just a question of more and better recycling, although that is an important part of the equation. The much-quoted Professor Walter Stahel of the Product Life Institute told the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee that
“the economics of the circular economy are very important, and the economics tell you that the smaller the loop the more profitable it is ... If you look at the economics, recycling is the least interesting option.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 2 October 2013; c 2652.]
Of course, this is not and should not be all about profit but, if we are genuinely talking of a new model of economy, profit and profitability have to be a factor. We should not shy away from that, because the potential benefit is enormous.
The Aldersgate Group has noted that
“It is the componentisation”— that was a new word on me—
“remanufacture, refurbishing and reselling of goods that is of most value to the economy and, in doing so, creates the most high value jobs.”
As Jamie McGrigor pointed out, DEFRA estimates that, if all food waste in the UK was treated through anaerobic digestion technology, 35,000 jobs would be created.
Whichever way we look at it, there are massive benefits to be gained from going down the circular economy route. However, the change that has to come about cannot be made by any Government or minister casually flicking on a switch, because to bring it about requires a complete change of mindset and behaviour, which can never be achieved overnight. We are talking of a complete change of culture and attitude towards waste, but most companies’ business models are—understandably—still centred on disposable goods and resources. Large-scale investment will almost certainly be required, and access to high-level funding is never easy, particularly at times such as those that we live in. In addition, there is always a reluctance to change from tried-and-tested models that have stood the test of time, although the big irony in that argument is that it is time that is running out.
As many members noted, it is good and encouraging that we received a number of briefings from companies and organisations that have clearly got the message and are looking to drive change towards a more circular economy. It is commendable that the Scottish Government was the first national Government to sign up to the circular economy 100 programme—an initiative that brings together corporations, innovators and regions to use a collaborative approach to scaling up to a circular economy. That has to be the right approach.
In reply to a question that I asked him on whether Government stimulus is needed to encourage the required change of mindset or whether it could come from the bottom up, Professor Stahel said:
“I think that both are required. Big international companies probably do not need Government stimulus, but small and medium-sized enterprises normally lack the knowledge and the overall view. For SMEs, it would be useful if the Government, possibly together with the universities, could provide some kind of data bank that would allow them to see what other companies have done, what the successful models are, what new capabilities and skills they might need and where they can get those.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 2 October 2013; c 2658.]
We are looking at companies, universities and the Government working together through a collaborative and knowledge-sharing approach. That is clearly the way forward if the transition to a circular economy is to proceed successfully. One sure-fire hurdle to prevent that would be any increase in red tape or bureaucracy—hence our amendment to the Government’s motion. However, if a truly collaborative approach is taken, there is surely no reason why we in Scotland should not continue to play the leading role that we have already taken in bringing about the transition.
We simply have to move in that direction. Member after member has given great evidence as to why that is the case. The simple truth is that we have to do it, because we do not have two other planets to colonise. We have to make the most of this one, which means maximising the use of every resource that is available to us until it can be used no longer.
We have a long way to go, as the debate has shown, but the sooner we get there, the better.
It is usually the other way round, Presiding Officer. I will see how I get on.
This has been an excellent debate. The fact that the benches are so sparsely occupied does not reflect the quality of the debate. If I have one thought about how we take the issue forward, it is that it would be interesting to rerun the debate with all our colleagues who are on the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee and the spokespeople from all the parties who lead on the economy, and to push them through the learning and engagement process that I think everybody who has spoken this afternoon has gone through.
In particular, I refer to the points that Claudia Beamish made about the work of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, which were rightly echoed by several other members. Once we get into the issue of the circular economy, the case for it is unanswerable. It makes sense in terms of sustainable development principles and how we develop a green economy, and there are the 500,000 jobs that Claudia Beamish mentioned we could create.
However, weighed against that is what is happening in our economy with the financial pressures, the difficulty of making long-term investment decisions when people have short-term profits to make and the challenge of making our markets for reused goods sustainable. There are immense challenges in creating a green economy, but it has to be one of our objectives.
If we look at the human side, which several members mentioned, it is vital for consumers to have knowledge and interest. When we recycle, we need to know that we are doing it properly, and local authorities must design schemes that enable that. There is quite a challenge in that. Whenever there is a minor change in how our waste is collected, people are not sure whether they are doing the right thing, even if they are really interested in the topic, so there is an issue about consumers and how we come into this.
Then there are the massive pressures on the environment, such as the exploitation and use of scarce resources, the impact of waste and the pollution of water, and things at a more basic level such as fly-tipping. Everybody can see the impact of fly-tipping and landfill tips. The speeches this afternoon have been excellent in capturing that range of challenges and issues that we need to tackle.
We can all agree that there is more knowledge and expertise and more progress in the business community, from retailing to waste management. We have also had some warnings. The Viridor briefing put it in quite bleak terms. It said that we
“face a stark choice - further success or substantial failure”.
Viridor also suggests that
“Recycling and recovery have been real UK success stories to date BUT we do not have an institutionalised model.”
That success is not across all industries. It is not being done by everybody and there is a potential that we will stall or even reverse sharply backwards.
On the suggestion that we need a new economic model, I go back to my first point: those of us in the room who have been converted need to be joined by all our colleagues. It would be good to have that debate within the parties, to make sure that everybody is signed up to the agenda.
To be fair, there are only two of them so, proportionately, if we look at the representation from the rest of us, their share would be less than one person. Let us move on.
I want to say a couple of words about the Labour amendment. We wanted to add to the motion but also to throw some light on the importance of people and skills, highlighting the pressures on local authorities. Several members have talked about the fact that 23 local authorities have not met the targets. That is something that we should reflect on.
The challenges that local authorities are facing are acute. They need help, support for infrastructure investment and support from the Scottish Government to join up the dots in issues such as public procurement. Local authorities are looking for short-term value for money. It is hard to take in the longer-term investment challenge, which is also being faced by the private sector. The issue of markets for local authorities with new recycling or procurement challenges needs to be factored in. When we consider the acute challenges that local authorities face, such as demographic change, schools and social care, it is understandable why they have not cracked the issue. They need our support and support from the Scottish Government.
There has been a huge amount of progress in making more people aware of the challenges that we face. I am thinking of Scottish Enterprise’s contribution and we need to think through what more it can do. It is clear that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been leading the way.
There is a lot more that needs to be done in product development, which several members have talked about. Dave Thompson gave an explanation of deliberate design obsolescence, Claudia Beamish made the point that 80 per cent of the environmental impact is all about design, and Claire Baker commented on action by colleges and universities. On one level, we know exactly what needs to be done. The briefings that we have received for the debate have been really useful.
I want to reflect on the issue of barriers. The Conservative amendment mentions the barrier of regulation. We must be careful about that. The Scottish Retail Consortium points out that the general approach is to minimise risk and wants to ensure that we get the regulations right and proportionate. That is right on one level, but if we consider why there is a risk assessment here, it takes us back to the section of the Labour amendment that talks about the “Dumped on” report, which talks about the risk to human health—the risk to the health of staff working in the industry. We need to get the regulation right—there is no dispute about that—but we must be clear that when regulations that are there to protect public health are not followed, there is a consequence for people’s health.
Change is difficult, but it is essential. We need to have that discussion and industry needs to be involved in that process. However, one person’s bureaucracy is another person’s transparency and monitorable form-filling that leads to accountability. We have reservations about the Conservative amendment because we must acknowledge the importance of proper regulation.
Over the past few months, some of us have been briefed about what is happening on the fringes of the waste industry, where there is criminal activity. We need proper reporting, regulation and enforcement. It has all got to be there.
The cabinet secretary made some important remarks about the leadership role that we can play not only in Scotland but in the UK. I think that he is right, but there is an economies-of-scale issue that needs to cut right across the UK. We want to be virtuous leaders, but we also want to ensure that we take the whole of the UK economy with us. Leading by example is important in that respect, and perhaps we should be doing a bit more in Scotland to make this work. It all comes back to the fact that the European regulatory framework is vital and needs to be right.
Going back to the local authority issue, I see a continuum from the very first Scottish Parliament to this Parliament in the way that we have been pushing this agenda. Perhaps I can give members an example from my own time as minister. The first Scottish Executive would not have started as quickly or worked as hard on recycling had it not faced the threat of EU infraction proceedings and financial penalties as a result of many of our waste dumps not being EU compliant. Regulation and the threat of financial penalties certainly have a role, but the fact is that we need to get the circular economy working so that we can get ahead of the curve and ensure that our businesses become the game-changers as well as benefit from the other parts of the world’s economy that are coming along behind us.
We have heard some fantastic examples from across the country of the third sector’s work on this matter. At some point in this post-election period, I will be taking to Remade in Edinburgh some of my old electrical equipment that has been accumulating such as the phone chargers that members have mentioned, old DVD players and so on. I have mountains of stuff that is gathering dust or festering, but Remade will take that equipment to bits and harvest what is useful or will mend that kit and pass it on to people who cannot afford to buy what I now regard as waste. Several members were bang on in their comments on this matter; indeed, I want to repeat Nigel Don’s comment that these things are not waste until we really cannot think of anything else to do with them. Remade is leading the way in this by training people in how to reuse that waste but, like all voluntary sector organisations, it is working to a difficult financial model.
I want to draw attention to Four Square’s Edinburgh furniture initiative and the work of Garvald Edinburgh in training people up and giving them experience, and I come back to the examples highlighted by Margaret McDougall of goods being recycled back to low-income residents who would otherwise not be able to furnish their houses or have white goods if they did not get the absolutely reusable things that others have thrown away. We need to focus on reusing, refocusing and refurbishing. For example, the furniture that big companies get rid of is completely recyclable; indeed, I have heard of some fantastic examples of stuff being chucked out by the banking industry and recycled and reused by small firms and companies.
We can make this work, but the challenge is making the markets and the money work. Local authorities do not have the bodies with enough expertise to do as much as they would like to do and do not have as much money to give the voluntary sector to ensure that all the local community projects that we are really proud of have enough funding to be sustainable in the long term. The comments that Dave Thompson, Claire Baker and Jayne Baxter made about the importance of the third sector are crucial.
This is a debate that we need to have across the Parliament. If there is one thing that the Scottish Government can do, it is to play a leadership role, bring everyone—the local authorities, the communities and the businesses—together and act as a kind of university, passing on the research, the knowledge and the information and ensuring that everyone acts in a collegiate way. Local authorities are already doing the exciting community energy stuff. The work that Edinburgh and Glasgow are undertaking will be transformative, but only if they get support and leadership from the Scottish Government.
I very much welcome this debate. It has been heartwarming to hear the huge support that exists for ensuring that we elevate the concept of the circular economy up the Parliament’s agenda. Many good points have been made by members from across the chamber.
Sarah Boyack is right to say that we want to ensure that the members of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee are aware of the subject. Although there is not a huge number of members in the chamber, there is a substantial number, so I remind members who are here for this important debate that we are just like recycled materials, in that it is quality that matters, not quantity. That was the message that I sent earlier in the debate.
I feel older than I did at the beginning of the debate, especially after listening to Dave Thompson and Linda Fabiani. I always thought that they were a huge number of years older than me, but I found myself remembering that I, too, used to return my bottles to pay for access to the cinema.
I also remember the ironmonger’s horse and cart coming down my road to collect scrap metal. As Dave Thompson and others have said, we have had a circular economy over the decades. Of course, times have changed and it is now a much bigger debate, given the scarcity of resources across the world.
Many members mentioned global trends and the fact that we are facing the prospect of there being 3 billion new and wealthier consumers by 2050, which will fuel demand for the planet’s precious resources. That illustrates the scale of the challenge. Resources and materials that we perhaps take for granted today might eventually be seen as rare and precious. That poses an economic challenge as well as an environmental challenge.
I had to miss a bit out of my speech, but I would have liked to talk about the fact that it is important to think not only about how we use new materials but what we do with our old materials, and the fact that there are parts of Bangladesh and India that have huge piles of our rubbish. One of our challenges, as part of our global social responsibility efforts, is to make more use of those products in this country.
I totally agree with that point, which goes to the heart of the debate. If the demand for those raw materials is going to increase, it poses an enormous environmental challenge to the planet and a huge economic challenge to every nation, including Scotland. That is why it is important that we show leadership, especially with the prospect of 75 per cent more raw materials being required in the coming 25 years. Indeed, we must view what we have traditionally seen as waste as precious raw materials.
“Our old resource-intensive growth model is simply not feasible on this scale and on a limited planet. Many of the resources our economies depend on are already scarce, such as energy or some raw materials, and others are limited and vulnerable, such as clean water, clean air and nature.”
He also said:
“In concrete terms the global competition for resources will mean that we will be obliged to increase resource productivity, particularly in Europe where we are dependent on imports of materials.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 20 June 2013; c 2465.]
That is why creating a circular economy is important. It is about protecting our environment and our economy, but it is also about protecting our future quality of life, as a people.
The heart of the circular economy, as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said, involves minimising the amount that a product has to be changed in order for it to be reused, remanufactured or refurbished; maximising the length of time that a product functions for and the number of times it can be reused, remanufactured or refurbished; optimising how materials that have degraded beyond their being reusable as a feedstock in one system can be used as a feedstock in another process or supply chain; and minimising contamination and maximising the purity of material chains to increase collection and value of materials. That all sounds quite technical, but it is what the recycling, reuse, repair and remanufacturing debate is all about. We have to keep our materials circulating in our societies so that we are less reliant on imports from other societies—because people in those societies want to keep their raw materials in order to reach the quality of life that we have—and so that we are able to maintain our quality of life here in Scotland.
That raises issues around the design of products, which many members have mentioned. Product design is reserved to the UK Government, but it is important and we work with the UK Government and the EU on addressing it. About 80 per cent of a product’s lifetime environmental impact is determined by its design, so we have to get that right. We cannot afford not to.
As many members have said, the solution of a circular economy very much relies on collaboration and everyone in society working together. Many members, including Claudia Beamish, highlighted local government’s role, and the financial, training and skills pressures on councils. We must address those pressures. Zero Waste Scotland is working with local government employees and facilitates the Scottish waste industry training, competency, health and safety forum.
We are starting modern apprenticeships on sustainable resource management in Scotland’s local councils; five councils are now working with 31 apprentices and the figure is expected to grow in the future. We want to build up skills in local government.
The key issue that is facing local government is the fact that we have 32 local authorities. In the past, there were 32 different ways of doing things, such as collecting recyclate, the recycled materials. That has created problems and has meant that the reprocessing and manufacturing sector has not had the commercial confidence to set up new plants in Scotland to recycle the glass and other materials that are collected. The sector cannot get the quality or the volumes that it wants because the process is carried out in 32 different ways.
The way forward that we have identified is the best one, with the 32 local authorities working together on common procurement and a more uniform approach to collecting materials for recycling in Scotland.
The Scottish Government and local government face real financial pressures. I hope that, over the next few weeks and months, the position will change for the better, but it is in local government’s financial interests to improve recycling and work with the circular economy. If councils have better recycling systems in place, they will get better income from the recyclate that is collected—the recyclate will be better quality, so the income will go up—and if the costs of carrying out the process are shared, they will go down.
Such an approach is also in the interests of local economies, because if we can collect in a more uniform fashion and give confidence to the commercial sector to set up new factories to process what is collected, that will mean local jobs in local communities and sustainable economic growth. We want those things to happen, which is why it is really important that the 32 local authorities work closely together.
Viridor, which sent out a briefing to all members for the debate, has announced £357 million-worth of investment in Scotland in the past 18 months, including its investment in the UK’s most advanced glass recycling facility at Newhouse in Lanarkshire. The facility will process glass that will be collected from 17 Scottish councils and will create 30 full-time jobs. If Viridor gets it right, real jobs will be created in communities across Scotland. That is why it is so important that the 32 local authorities work together, just as they are now beginning to work with the Scottish Government.
As many members have said, it is important that Scotland maintains its leadership in this area. In the weeks and months ahead, I will be speaking to the new UK Government about the issues that relate to creating a circular economy and improving recycling and product design, because many of them are reserved. Europe is trying to do something about the area, too, but EU negotiations are also reserved. The UK recently opposed the package that the EU wanted to introduce, because it saw it as putting too much of a burden on business. However, the Scottish Government took the view that it was right to be ambitious and to promote the circular economy. We need the UK Government to change its position and to support the European Union and the environment commissioner in taking forward the agenda to create the circular economy.
If we get power over national taxation, there are other issues that we can consider. Product standards, design and labelling are reserved issues, so we need the UK Government to play ball.
However, we will continue to show leadership. I have been invited to speak on the subject at events in London, and we are inviting the environment commissioner to visit Scotland because he has a special interest in creating a circular economy and very much sees Scotland as a leader.
Over the past few years, we have been showing leadership with our new zero waste plan and the new safeguarding Scotland’s resources policy. In Scotland, 1.4 million households have food waste collection services, up from 300,000 households in 2010, which is a massive advance. We have seen a threefold increase in food waste processing and the setting up of the new local government brokerage service, with the 32 authorities working closer together. As I said, we set up the new, innovative and world-leading Scottish institute of remanufacture at the University of Strathclyde, and we are also looking at the introduction of a deposit and return scheme. In that regard, we will consider seriously the report that was published this morning and look at how best to progress such a scheme.
I thank everyone for their speeches. We support our own motion, obviously, and we will support both amendments.
I will finish where I started. Creating a circular economy is an economic, environmental and moral necessity. It will create jobs in our communities, it will improve our quality of life, and it just makes good sense. Let us get behind it and make it happen for Scotland and the world.
I thank the member for that.
As I said, a major cultural change will be required to turn the clock back, as it were, and there will be resistance—there is no doubt about that. However, we need to pursue that change.
There are certainly merits in repairing and remanufacturing, but there are also challenges. We will need to get supermarkets and high street electrical retailers to buy into the concept in order to reverse an ingrained attitude. They would have to be prepared to provide good-quality products that last longer and are easy to repair, rather than the bargain deals on certain appliances that they currently offer. If they do not, what motivation is there for the public to change their behaviour when they can replace items ranging from large kitchen goods to microwaves, kettles and so on for relatively little?
I highlight those points not to discourage the concept but to note the steps that will be required to bring about a major, but necessary, cultural change. An acceptance of the concept of technological obsolescence or the attitude that it would be cheaper just to buy a new one pervades our daily lives—look at the scramble for the next smartphone or tablet device.
How many of us have repair contracts for our kitchen appliances or, when the TV goes on the blink, do not instinctively say that we will just buy another one? Zero Waste Scotland has estimated that within the 150,000 tonnes of potentially reusable items that go to landfill, 9,800 tonnes are made up of washing machines, and that, overall, 51 per cent of items at recycling centres could be reused after only a minor repair. That shows just how ingrained in our society is the premise of buying some items only to replace them when they break down or when a newer model comes along.
It was good to hear in the committee about the Hewlett-Packard factory in Scotland that is designed to reuse and remanufacture computers and other hardware from northern Europe. The £3.8 million loan fund that is managed jointly by Zero Waste Scotland and Scottish Enterprise to support circular economy businesses was also welcome news. Such companies and projects represent one of the ways in which Scotland is leading the way in the UK in building a circular economy, as I said.
Other developments are taking place, too: the Scottish Government was the first national Government to become a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s circular economy 100 programme; and in October last year, as we have heard, the 5p plastic-bag charge was introduced, and the indications are that it is proving to be extremely successful.
In January, the cabinet secretary opened the Scottish institute of remanufacture, which is one of only four such institutes in the world, and the first in Europe. Such actions have led to Scotland being described as being
“a long way ahead other parts of the UK”.
We already have a reuse and remanufacturing sector that employs 23,000 people, all told. The remanufacturing industry is worth £1.1 billion to the Scottish economy, and by 2020 it could grow by up to £620 million, adding another 5,700 jobs to the mix.
There is scope to exploit the wider sectoral opportunities that exist. The by-products and waste from established industries such as oil and gas and food and drink provide great opportunities to reuse and recycle. For example, the “Circular Economy Scotland” report identifies a business opportunity worth a potential £150 million, converting whisky by-products to fish feed. It also suggests that carbon emissions from melting steel from the decommissioning of gas and oil rigs could be reduced by 80 per cent if the steel is reused.
We hear that an estimated £50 million-worth of gold could be wasted in Scotland through the disposal of electronic items such as computers and phones over the next five years—that is another opportunity to make progress.
We in Scotland are well placed to move to a circular economy. However, while Governments can drive, incentivise and encourage change, we as individuals have to buy into the agenda and deliver a societal shift. To secure buy-in, we need to raise awareness. If nothing else, I hope that the debate raises awareness of a necessary step that Scotland and the rest of the world have to take.
I am pleased to speak in the debate and to be part of the move to promote and build a circular economy. The commitment has been developed over the years in the Scottish Parliament, starting with the national waste strategy in 2003, which had a focus on increasing municipal recycling and waste reduction levels.
We have moved increasingly from setting targets to introducing regulations to act as levers to deliver more progress, and there is now an increasing focus on a circular economy. That presents big challenges, but—as the cabinet secretary said—it also presents many opportunities.
Scotland has done well on many of the domestic targets. The behaviour of many households has changed for the positive, supported by local authorities’ waste management plans. Although 23 local authorities did not manage to meet the Scottish Government’s target of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2013—and we need to consider the reasons for that—we have seen progress. More and more businesses are making positive changes to their use of resources, driven by demands on their energy and production costs.
Members may have received an email from Sainsbury’s and a briefing from the Scottish Retail Consortium in which a commitment to a circular economy is demonstrated. We have seen fantastic efforts from many of our supermarkets in accepting their responsibility to address some of the challenges.
There are substantial economic and environmental gains to be made from promoting a circular economy, but much more collective action from all the partners, including our higher and further education sectors, is required as we improve the design and ensure that we have the right skills base to deliver.
I recognise the progress that has been made, but I believe that we need a more honest debate about what the options are as we move forward if we are to achieve a circular economy.
To return to the issue of council targets, I had a round-table discussion with council leaders a while back and I was amazed at the complexity of waste management: the contracts that local authorities are tied into, the high-value waste that they could sell, and the waste that they have to pay others to take away. I am not sure that we fully appreciate the economics of waste, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments today about a new brokerage service as a step in the right direction. I also note Jamie McGrigor’s comments about the concerns that Viridor has raised regarding infrastructure.
The responsibility for moving a lot of this work forward lies with local authorities, which are facing substantial strains on their funding over the next few years, leading to the tensions that are described in Unison’s report, “Dumped on: Working in Scotland’s waste management services”.
A fully functioning circular economy gives greater value to waste. That is recognised in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, which suggests ways forward.
I would like assurances from the Government that we have the infrastructure that everyone is working with right, because I am not sure that we do. For example, Avondale Advanced Waste Treatment closed its state-of-the-art recycling facility two years ago, the cabinet secretary having officially opened it the previous year. When it closed, one of the company’s directors said that the closure decision was taken
“in light of the weak economy, increased operating costs, the reduction in volume and market value of recyclates and the lack of strategic facilities to handle the refuse derived fuel.”
That quote was in a sector magazine, as members could probably tell by the technical nature of the language. Avondale’s state-of-the-art facility was open for only a year and had to close because of economic problems and problems with the availability of material to feed the centre. The situation does not seem to have changed, because the centre has never reopened.
When the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee took evidence on the second report on proposals and policies and the zero waste strategy, it was recognised that progress had been made. However, a number of issues were raised, including by James Curran—then the chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—who argued that there was a need to take a more national and strategic approach to the development of infrastructure to support the zero waste plan.
There is a tension between, on the one hand, the desire for small-scale infrastructure and a drive towards reduction, which is favoured by many, and, on the other, the sheer scale of the national waste challenge that we face and the lack of national infrastructure to manage it. The Government sets the targets and makes the regulations, but it is local authorities, businesses and communities that are trying to deliver. Other countries have taken a much more national approach to their infrastructure needs. I would like to know more about the Government’s view of that issue.
The Coca-Cola bottling plant in East Kilbride is a zero-waste-to-landfill site, and the company has a good UK record on the issue. To achieve that, the company had to invest heavily in its own recycling infrastructure and equipment as neither the public sector nor the private sector could meet its needs or standards. Waste from the Scottish plant is currently taken to a central plant in England that Coca-Cola owns.
Are we confident that standards in the recycling and waste industry are high enough to raise the value of waste, which is key to an effective circular economy? The industry is one of the most difficult sectors for SEPA to monitor, and the Unison “Dumped on” report talks about recycling and waste management being one of the “most hazardous occupations” in the UK. The cabinet secretary might want to say a bit more about what the Government is doing to raise standards in the industry to support the circular economy.
I want to mention a social enterprise that was based in Glenrothes in Fife. Castle RePaint Scotland diverted water-based paint from landfill and turned it into top-quality emulsion in a range of colours. Each year, more than 300 million litres of paint—retail and trade—are sold in the UK, but it is estimated that 50 million litres are unused and stored in homes or garages, or just thrown away. Although there are opportunities to reuse or donate paint, gallons of it still go to landfill and waste management centres. The RePaint project was able to remove paint from that linear journey and turn it into a new product, which was an excellent example of the circular economy. The project was creative and innovative—qualities that the cabinet secretary values. It also provided opportunities to previously unemployed young people to train and gain skills, which benefited the wider economy.
It was therefore very disappointing that the enterprise had to close due to the lack of viability of the project. A few reasons were identified for that, including public procurement constraints. As a small social enterprise, RePaint was not in a position to bid for big public contracts. Although the enterprise could have provided paint for a cluster of primary schools, for example, the volume required to meet the needs of public sector contracts excluded it from bidding for them. The drive for value for money for the taxpayer in public contracts is important: bigger contracts give local authorities the best deal, and public bodies often tender collectively. However, that does not recognise the additional value that a project such as RePaint could have provided through its contribution to the circular economy, the opportunities it offered for training and skills and its ability to support community regeneration. The project said that an obligation could be built into public contracts so that 10 per cent of the paint used was recycled paint. I feel that public procurement needs to deliver more in such areas to support social enterprises.
It was difficult for Castle RePaint to be commercial. A commercial contract with any of the big DIY companies would have left the enterprise vulnerable. The situation was frustrating for it because everyone recognised that it had an excellent project—it had a stall in the Parliament for a week—and that what it was doing was fantastic in so many ways, but it just could not get a break. The project failed because the system operated against it.
I am sure that the debate will be very interesting. We have made progress on recycling and will continue to do so, but in many ways the earliest progress is the easiest. We need to have a much broader debate about how we achieve a truly circular economy.
What an opportunity to talk rubbish, although some may say that that is my norm. I have always been a fan of the circular economy. When I was director of protective services for Highland Council, one of my responsibilities was waste management. My head of waste management was Hendy Pollock, who happens to be in the public gallery today along with fellow environmental colleagues Andy Little, Brian Donnet and John Hearmon. They have travelled from the north especially to listen to this exciting debate—actually, they were here already for a long-established lunch with me, but why let the truth spoil a good story? It was Hendy who drummed into my head the three Rs—reduce, reuse and recycle. Now, he and his colleagues have all been recycled into retirement, where I must admit they add great value to their local communities.
The modern notion of the circular economy has deep-rooted origins that are difficult to pinpoint, but it is not really new. When I was a loon in Lossie in the 1950s and 60s, we wasted nothing, and I still hate waste. Food scraps went to the hens. What the hens did not eat went into the midden, and that in turn went into the ground as compost. Wrapping paper and string were carefully preserved and used again, clothes were patched and handed down, and rags went to the raggy manny, who gave us loons and quines a balloon or toy in exchange. Everything was repaired and reused if at all possible.
I made my first bike from bits that I collected from the local dump. The only problem was that I could not find any brakes, so I used the sole of my shoe against the front tyre. That taught me about friction and rapid wear, as the sole of my shoe soon had a hole in it. My mother was not too pleased about the shoe or the fact that I had been scavenging in the dump. It is just as well that she did not know that I also collected lemonade and beer bottles from the dump, washed them in the River Lossie and redeemed them through deposit return at the local grocer’s. The grocer must have thought that my father was a secret alcoholic, as I told him that I got all the bottles at home.
After that golden era of the original circular economy, we arrived at the disposable economy and built-in obsolescence. My first experience of that was in the 1960s, with a small, cheap but excellent camera. After a good bit of usage, the button for the shutter jammed. I took it apart and found that the part of the button inside the camera had in-built serrations that were designed to damage the body of the camera and make it jam after a certain amount of use. That taught me that capitalism has only one overriding purpose: to make a profit. Therefore, if we are to get capitalists to embrace the circular economy, we must show them that it is more profitable, as legislation that forces change will never succeed on its own.
The general principle of a circular economy is that it is restorative by design and aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. There are different schools of thought, such as regenerative design, the performance economy and the blue economy. It all sounds good, but what does it mean in practical terms?
Significant amounts of fossil fuels are used in fertilisers, farm machinery and processing, and through the supply chain. A more integrated food and farming system would reduce the need for fossil fuel-based inputs and capture more of the energy value of by-products and manures. The circular economy also increases employment, which helps to fast track the use of more circular business models, and assists with our use of renewable energy in the longer term.
The World Economic Forum’s circular economy initiative, which involves more than 30 global companies, has outlined three programmes to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. Focusing on plastic packaging, paper and paperboard, and asset tracking, the WEF aims to advance collaboration across major supply chains during 2015, to address current bottlenecks and leakages.
The annual material demand for polyester, which is used in plastic bottles and the textile industry, totals about 54 million tonnes, of which roughly 86 per cent leaks out of the system. It is estimated that nearly £2.8 billion in value could be created from better use of polyester alone.
In 2020, the total annual production of paper and paperboard will amount to about 480 million tonnes, of which some 130 million will leak out of the system. The WEF’s project mainstream wishes to address that—doing so would have a value of around £7 billion.
Asset tracking is an interesting idea. The WEF is seeking to develop a design and implementation toolkit that includes technology choice, consumer incentives and collaborative information sharing to address the information gaps that prevent better decision making on what to do with a product when a first user is finished with it. Globally, consumer electronic and household appliances with a cumulative value of roughly £270 billion reach the end of their life each year. Asset tracking could help to unlock a potential value of about £37 billion annually in those sectors alone, through more reuse, remanufacturing and recycling.
Jamie McGrigor mentioned an Inverness councillor who told him that there should be no targets without markets. I know who he means: the councillor is not actually from Inverness but is from the west—from Kyle, I think. However, the point relates to my experience. When I took over as director of protective services at Highland Council, we collected paper separately from the main waste collection, ostensibly to go for recycling. However, at the time there was no market for paper, and we spent a huge amount of money collecting paper separately—in order to take it to the local dump. Hendy Pollock and I, and our colleagues, put a stop to that because it was a gross waste of money.
We have much to gain, both environmentally and economically, from the circular economy, and I hope that the motion and its amendments get unanimous support.