Waste Exports

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

2. To ask the Scottish Government how it will reduce the amount of waste that it exports, in light of reports that 1.7 million tonnes left the country in 2018, including almost all plastics, for recycling. (S5T-02535)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

In 2019, the whole-life carbon impacts of Scotland’s household waste reached their lowest level since official recording began.

However, we know that there is still work to be done to reduce waste and develop a thriving circular economy.

We want to build a fully circular economy and to be able to manage more of our own waste within Scotland, including the 14 per cent of our waste that is currently processed elsewhere. Our deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers will, from July 2022, support more opportunities for reprocessing plastic. Our programme for government 2020-21 committed us to encouraging investment in reprocessing, in order to create good green jobs and a ready supply of recycled material.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

It was reported at the weekend that Scotland now exports 4.5 times more waste than it did in 2004. Whether that is to England, Europe or the other side of the world, it is a filthy statistic. What are the Scottish Government’s projections for offshoring our waste over the coming years?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I reiterate what I said to the member in my first response. We are absolutely committed, as a responsible Government, to tackling our own waste. That is why we set out a number of measures in the programme for government this year.

As I have stated, that is really about trying to stimulate the development of reprocessing infrastructure to deal with waste materials, particularly plastic. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform and the Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, Ivan McKee, have been in touch with local authority chief executives to look at how we can work together to stimulate opportunities for more of that processing to take place in Scotland. In our programme for government, we committed £70 million to improving recycling collection infrastructure and developing a new route map to reducing waste. We will also introduce the deposit return scheme, which we hope will have a massive positive impact.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The minister will know that I have been campaigning for the introduction of a coffee cup levy for some time now. In October last year, the Scottish Government confirmed that that would be part of the now-dropped circular economy bill. We are already sending billions of cups to landfill per year, and that was before the pandemic introduced a new wave of single-use items. The environment cannot wait, so what can the Scottish Government do in advance of the circular economy bill being introduced?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I emphasise that the fact that we were not able to take forward the circular economy bill does not mean that any of the work that we looked to do will be halted. We recognise the issues, and I am sure that the member will be aware that we set out in the programme for government that we would see how we could put the single-use plastics directive into effect. That deals with 10 of the most common plastic items that we see washed up along the shoreline. The consultation started on 12 October for a period of 12 weeks, and it looks at how we can implement a ban to stop those items ending up in our oceans.

As I have outlined, we have the DRS scheme and the £70 million that we have committed to improving recycling collection infrastructure. We are looking at using a whole host of measures to tackle the issues that we face, and I am more than happy to work with the member and other members to see how we can improve that work. If there is anything that we can be doing, or anything that we can be doing faster, I am more than happy to look at that.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

The Scottish National Party’s record shows that 3 tonnes of waste have been shipped abroad every minute, that just 2 per cent of plastics have been recycled in Scotland, that there is no 2021 landfill ban, that the 2013 recycling targets have still not been met, that recycling rates are lower now than they were in 2016, and that we are turning Scotland into the ashtray of Europe, with incineration up almost 400 per cent. Is the minister proud of that record?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I refute what Maurice Golden says. As I have said, we have a whole host of measures in place to tackle what we are facing, and we want to make the most of our capabilities to build the necessary infrastructure and to create a fully circular economy. I have talked about the deposit return scheme.

The member mentioned the landfill target. We continue to make progress towards our ambitious recycling and waste targets. Across Scotland in 2018, we recycled more than we sent to landfill, which is great news for our action on climate change.

We know that there is more to be done. That is why our programme for government includes the investment of £70 million that I have talked about

, and we are undertaking a review of the household recycling charter and code of practice, which will ensure that the right decision is the easy decision for businesses and households when it comes to recycling.

We are absolutely committed to looking at all possible measures to improve recycling rates and to building capacity to deal with that recycling in Scotland as best we can.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

As we have heard, it is shocking how much of what could be reused, recycled and remanufactured is being exported. In view of the fact that there will, disappointingly, not be a circular economy bill during the current parliamentary session, what specific support and advice has been given on the development of remanufacturing—particularly of plastics—as part of an industrial strategy? There are already excellent businesses in that area, such as MacRebur, which makes recycled plastic road surfaces, and Solway Recycling, which turns used plastic straw bale coverings into fencing, decking, hen houses and much more. Those companies act as positive models. How can we progress that far more rapidly as we move towards net zero?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I am sure that Claudia Beamish and other members will understand why we could not introduce the circular economy bill, which we, of course, wanted to progress. We are actively working with potential investors in plastic reprocessing capacity in Scotland. One potential investor has gone public with outline plans for such an investment at Dunbar, and we are working with them to create the conditions for that kind of opportunity to be realised. We are also open to working with other potential investors in that market.

One issue that is causing difficulties at present is a perception that the current extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging creates incentives for exporting waste plastic. We are currently working with the other Governments of the United Kingdom on reform of that scheme, and one of the key objectives is to strengthen incentives for domestic reprocessing.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

The amount of waste that is exported by the UK to European Union countries is a huge issue and will potentially be a real problem post-Brexit. Will the minister expand on the progress that has been made by the waste sector on reducing greenhouse gases since the 1990 baseline, and will she outline what is in the programme for government that means that Scotland will be able to deal with its own waste material?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Our Scottish greenhouse gas emission statistics show that carbon emissions from waste management have fallen by more than 70 per cent, which is a reduction of nearly 4.5 million tonnes between 1990 and 2018. As I highlighted in some of my previous responses, our programme for government includes the investment of £70 million to improve collection infrastructure and to develop a new route map to reducing waste and improving recycling. There are also the other measures that I outlined to Claudia Beamish, on which the cabinet secretary and Ivan McKee are working with local authorities to see what we can do to stimulate interest in processing capacity, which is what we have to do as a responsible nation. We have to capitalise and maximise on the opportunities that are presented to us through the circular economy.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

The landfill ban has now been moved back to 2025, which industry has described as a failure of Government leadership to get the—[


.] Will the minister ensure that we will not see a rush to build incinerators across Scotland to fill that gap, and will she commit to including consideration of a moratorium on incinerators in the next national planning framework?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

On Mark Ruskell’s point about the landfill ban, local authorities had already made significant progress towards the target of sending no biodegradable municipal waste to landfill by 2021. Despite that progress, it was clear that full compliance by 2021 could be achieved only by relying on exporting waste and, in particular, landfilling in England. That would have had a consequent environmental impact and additional financial implications for local authorities. Therefore, an implementation date of 31 December 2025 for the ban has now been set out in legislation. However, we expect significant progress ahead of that date. There will be a centrally supported procurement solution to help remaining local authorities to secure alternative solutions to comply with the forthcoming ban, and the Scottish landfill tax will be used to provide a further incentive to ensure that transitional work proceeds at the necessary pace.