Talking Point: Recycling incentives

Written by on 17 February 2014

Scottish households could save £470 per year by cutting down on food waste, according to a new campaign from Zero Waste Scotland.

The organisation found that people in Scotland throw away around one fifth of the food they buy every year, creating about 630,000 tonnes of waste in the process.

Zero Waste says that, as well as wasting money when we throw away food that could be eaten, “it rots in landfill and creates harmful greenhouse gases. All the energy, water and time that went into farming the food and transporting it - from farm to fork - will have been wasted too.”

The Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, welcomed the campaign, saying: "If we used up all the food and drink we currently waste, it would cut carbon emissions equal to taking one in four cars off Scotland's roads."

The UK has made huge progress in recent years, with 39 per cent of all waste now recycled - up from 12 per cent in 2001 - and meeting the EU average for the first time.

Obviously the biggest incentive to recycle is to slow our destruction of the natural environment. But while walking to the nearest glass recycling point last week, cursing how much empty bottles weigh, I could see how saving the planet may not be top of everyone’s priorities. 

So the Zero Waste Scotland campaign, which takes the amount that we waste and frames it in monetary terms, is certainly a clever one.

But more could be done and looking to countries such as Germany, Austria and Belgium - which already recycle more than half of their waste - could provide solutions for a way forward.

Some European countries put a deposit on bottles, which is paid when they are returned. There is no reason that this approach could not be introduced in Scotland (though kudos to Irn Bru, which is well ahead of the curve).

A cash incentive is effective, but it is not the only option. For a start, given that smashing a bottle into a recycling bin so satisfying, I would personally recommend extending it so that all recycling involves some degree of smashing.

Returning from the recycling spot, by then in the pouring rain, my envy of our European neighbours and their incentives only increased.

But, arriving home, I did feel good knowing that my bottles would be re-used and I definitely learned something from the experience. I cracked open a bottle of wine to reward myself and, thanks to what I had learned from Zero Waste Scotland, none was thrown away.

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