Agenda: It takes more than rhetoric to achieve the circular economy


The excellent recent Diary article on Scotland’s incineration policy (“Balance must be struck in waste policy”, The Herald, June 21) reminded me of the Scottish Government’s current consultation, Driving Scotland’s Circular Economy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide much evidence of the kind of foresight and innovation the article calls for. It does, however, repeat some high-profile earlier strategies, including:

• A ban on landfilling biodegradable waste. This was due to start in January 2021 but was postponed when it emerged Scotland did not have enough treatment capacity installed to cope, meaning several thousand tonnes of our waste would have to be transported by lorry in England to be phased out, which would result in vast board increases. the tax and closure of many Scottish small businesses, not to mention the associated increases in car transport, emissions and carbon footprint;

• Compulsory sorting of household waste. This was in fact introduced in 2000 by the Scottish Parliament and has led to significant advances in our recycling performance (initially from 3% which had increased to around 50% in 2006). It has since stalled due to a combination of the Scottish Government’s manipulation of council funding and the ability of councils to charge additional fees to households for collecting their separate garden waste;

• A deposit return system. This is generally accepted to be impractical in its current form, but if ever implemented it would likely reduce current recycling performance.

There are the usual good words and sound bites that are now seemingly mandatory in any official document these days, but other than that there is little to suggest they have a clear idea of ​​how to set up ‘the economy’. circular”. It’s hard to accept when Zero Waste Scotland employs over 85 people.

Although the consultation only opened on May 30 and does not close until August 22, Lorna Slater, the new Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, has already clarified (June 16) that ‘incineration’ (his description of the process known as ‘waste energy’ which has been used successfully on the continent for decades) has no place in the future waste management strategies of Scotland. Its decision is based on a report commissioned from a consultant whose main expertise is air pollution and who is believed to have little or no practical expertise in the thermal treatment of waste. It is therefore clear that the “consultation” is already compromised.

What seems to have been lost in all of this is that EU membership requires compliance with its landfill directive which provides for phased reductions in the tonnages of waste that member countries can landfill. Despite a special concession made for the UK, no part of it (including Scotland) could have met the targets of the 2020 directive and if we hadn’t left the EU would have inflicted on us a fine. These fines would have been directly passed on to municipal taxpayers.

This is all moot now, but if the Scottish government is serious about promoting a circular economy, it will take more than fine words and glossy brochures to get it done.

And waste energy (not “incineration”) has a contributing role to play.

The author has spent many decades in the Scottish waste management industry

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