A Circular Economy for Scotland: Rethinking the System

The Covid19 pandemic and the limitations of lockdown on movement has made us re-examine how we interact with each other.

Many businesses have either had to close down (hopefully for the period of lockdown only), repurpose what they do or adapt how they work and deliver products.

Today our economy is very much a linear one – where we buy products that will have a limited life span and which we then throw out and get a new one when that time is up.

Despite there being a global climate emergency amongst the first things to be abandoned or delayed were recycling measures both locally and nationally.

The Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme will not be operational now until July 2022. 15 months late.

Sarah Moyes, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Plastic and Circular Economy Campaigner said:

“While we understand that we are facing an unprecedented situation right now, the political decision to delay the introduction of the Deposit Return Scheme was taken prior to the beginning of the restrictions arising in relation to COVID-19.

“This 15 month delay risks not only an increase in plastic pollution in Scotland, but since the Deposit Return Scheme is a crucial step towards reducing our climate emissions, it will make it more difficult to meet the Government’s 2030 target of reducing emissions by 75%.

“Plastic pollution is an environmental emergency which risks getting worse due to coronavirus with a resurgence in single-use plastics. It is vital that as we come out of this pandemic, we take strong political action to prevent us from reversing the positive long-term gains we have already secured in the battle against plastic pollution.”

The Circular Economy

Hosted by XpoNorth, a virtual meeting was held on Thursday 14th of May to explore concepts behind a circular economy with Helen Lavery of Zero Waste Scotland.

The three main components of a successful circular economy are:

  • design out waste and pollution
  • keep products and materials in use
  • regenerate natural systems

A circular economy relies on a shift in the manufacturer/customer relationship.

Do we need all the products we have bought for DIY projects in the home or would hiring these tools be a smarter use of our money?

Could manufacturers have a return policy for products when they need to be replaced so that more of them could be reused or recycled and used to make other goods?

Key to all of this is getting it right from the start and for products/services that is in the design phase. Currently over 80% of the ecological costs of a product are determined before it is even created.

Disposing of waste is expensive – a circular economy results in more products lasting longer, being recycled, repaired and not filling up landfills.

There are excellent examples of this already happening but to be successful it requires a rethink at governmental level of how our future economy will develop.

Returning to the issue of the deposit return scheme in Scotland- now put off till at least July 2022 – in Norway 95% of plastic bottles are recycled.

All bottles and cans with the characteristic Norwegian deposit-label are possible to deposit all over the country due to our national deposit scheme. Our sole purpose is not an economic profit, but to always increase the number of collected beverage containers our eco-friendly, cost-effective deposit scheme can handle. We are strongly motivated to contribute to a better environment, thus we have invested in new, highly effective and modern recycling facilities. This ensures a clean environment and a better future. Infinitum

  • In 2019, Infinitum collected 598,624,841 cans and 556,570,130 bottles labeled with the deposit symbol.
  • There are roughly 3, 700 reverse vending machines in Norway, and there are 12,000 collection points throughout the country where you can return your empties.
  • 2,873 bottles and 2,538 beverage cans are labeled with Infinitum’s deposit symbol.
  • The reverse vending machines accept almost 6 050 foreign beverage cans and bottles. You can therefore return these empties, but you do not receive a deposit back when you do.

It can be done.

Governments’ could learn a lot from the Covid19 pandemic – not just in the importance of public health, the inequality in our communities and valuing those who have kept our society going. But also it is an opportunity to look at our economy – the importance of a Universal Basic Income and the way forward for us to address the global climate emergency by embracing the concepts of a circular economy and focusing future policy on that aim.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame


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