Associate feature: Scotland has an opportunity to create a truly circular economy
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact across the economy and sectors including the packaging and recycling industries have not been immune from its reach.
During the pandemic, Scottish local authorities saw their recycling rates rocket during the lockdowns, as households made increased of their kerbside collections, according to Wrap.
There is cross-party agreement for a broad, green recovery that should be grasped by government, industry and consumers as part of the wider economic recovery from the pandemic.
All the main political parties supported the re-introduction of the Circular Economy Bill in their manifestos, so the next session of the Scottish Parliament has an opportunity to create a true circular economy for Scotland.
We agree with the Scottish Government that an innovative circular economy can improve productivity and sustainability if we transform the way we produce, consume, reuse and recycle materials linked to the goods we need.
There is a huge amount that the government and other sectors can learn from the glass industry to make this a reality.
Glass is one of the most sustainable materials on Earth – it is 100 per cent recyclable, can be melted and re-melted without ever reducing its quality.
Using recycled glass to make new bottles reduces the energy required and the carbon footprint to make glass bottles.
The British glass industry was an early adopter of circular economy principles for these reasons: it makes economic and social sense.
And consumers agree. Research by Friends of Glass, finds nine in 10 consumers would recommend glass as the best form of packaging, as purchasing decisions are increasingly driven by recyclability and environmental considerations.
While British Glass and its members do not agree with the inclusion of glass bottles in Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS), we continue to argue that the Scottish Government should revisit the materials in scope.
It is right that the gateway review on the DRS’s implementation date examines the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality and retail sectors; however, given the introduction of extended producer responsibility and proposals for schemes elsewhere across the UK, there is an opportunity for Scotland to revisit the regulations and deliver a successful DRS that the other UK nations can replicate.
We are concerned that glass’ inclusion will incentivise a switch to plastic packaging, increase the use of raw materials and carbon emissions.
When schemes were introduced in Germany, for example, there was a 60 per cent increase in consumption of plastic.
In Croatia, since the introduction of a DRS, plastic has become the market leader for beverage bottles.
And in Finland, when PET plastic bottles were introduced into a DRS in 2008, the quantity of single use PET increased from around 50m units in 2007 to 375m units in 2017.
We believe that a more effective and efficient kerbside recycling system would be a better vehicle for increasing the quantity and quality of recycled glass.
The UK glass sector has an excellent recycling record of 71 per cent, but we know there is more to do.
That is why we have set out our ambition to achieve a 90 per cent collection rate by 2030.
Worryingly, one in four Scottish consumers say they won’t be returning their glass bottles to collect the deposit according to our research.
If kerbside glass collections become less viable due to reduced participation, this means more glass ending up in landfill and less back in the furnaces making new bottles and jars.
By installing an expensive and cumbersome infrastructure to enable glass collection, the government is ignoring alternative methods, including digital solutions, that could make reverse vending machines redundant in a matter of years.
We all know more needs to be done to increase recycling, tackle litter, and move toward creating a circular economy for all packaging formats.
While we do not think a DRS will achieve this for glass, we will continue to work with government to find solutions to making a circular economy in Scotland a reality.
Phillip Fenton is lead packaging and recycling adviser at British Glass
This article was sponsored by British Glass