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by Sofia Villegas
15 November 2023
In Context: Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill

The bill is at stage one | Alamy

In Context: Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill

What is it about?

The Scottish Government defines a circular economy as a system in which “resources are kept in use for as long as possible” – in other words, recycling.

The bill was introduced to the parliament in June and it is currently undergoing stage one scrutiny by the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee. A debate on its general principles is expected before the end of January, after which it should move to the amending stage. 

The new legislation would give ministers additional powers to set local recycling targets, set statutory targets for the delivery of a circular economy, limit the disposal of unsold consumer goods, and create charges on single-use items. It would also require the creation of a code of practice, co-designed by local authorities and the government, on household recycling.

In addition, the bill would also create new powers for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and local authorities to improve enforcement against fly-tipping and other waste crime. Meanwhile, a new penalty regime to tackle littering from vehicles would also be established.

On announcing the legislation, the government said it will “build on the experiences of Wales”, which has a 65.2 per cent recycling rate, ranking first in the UK. 

Why was it introduced?

Scotland is falling behind on its recycling targets. A SEPA report estimated that if the rate at which household waste generation has decreased over the last decade continues, almost a century will pass before the country manages to recycle 70 per cent of waste – the target for 2025. 

Last year, the Circularity Gap Report for Scotland also revealed the country consumes 21.7 tonnes of material per person per year, almost double the world average. 
Advocates of the bill hope it will help reach waste and recycling objectives by improving the “consistency of services” and increasing “the quality and quantity of recycling collected”.
Circular economy minister Lorna Slater said the bill will target “lazy, anti-social behaviour” and Scotland’s growing “throwaway culture”.

What are the consequences?

Households who do not comply with requirements set out by their local authority without reasonable excuse may receive a written warning. A fine may be imposed if that written warning is ignored and failure to comply is causing “nuisance”. Repeat offenders could then be referred to the police.

What has happened up to now?

In May 2022, the government announced a public consultation on policy proposals for the bill. At the same time, it also released a parallel consultation for the “route map to 2025 and beyond”.

Proposals were divided into four areas: strategic interventions, reduction and reuse, recycling, and littering and improving enforcement. 

The 12-week call for views received almost 1700 responses, with more than 85 per cent of respondents supporting the proposal to release an updated strategy every five years so Scotland could adapt to the changing environmental and regulatory landscape.

A majority of respondents also agreed on the need to establish a circular economy public body to fulfil responsibilities such as the “impartial monitoring of statutory targets”. Other proposals received divided responses, such as on the seizure of vehicles as a penalty for littering.

However, doubt was cast on the bill last week after the Finance and Public Administration Committee scrutinised its financial memorandum. Committee member and SNP MSP Michelle Thomson said there was “simply no idea as to the final costs of implementing the policy”.

Wait, have we not had trouble with environmental bills before?

In short, yes. 

The clearest example is of course the deposit return scheme. Previously set to launch in April 2021, and after several postponements, the scheme has been delayed to at least late 2025. 
That delay led to a vote of no-confidence in Lorna Slater, which she survived earlier this year.

What are people saying about it?

Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth Scotland welcome the new policies, claiming they will “create thousands of decent green jobs”.

Others say the policies do not go far enough. Mary Michel, co-founder of Ostrero – an organisation working towards Scotland’s circular economy through mindset change – is calling for education to be included in the bill. 

And others say the new measures will only put certain sectors under further strain. In September, the Scottish Grocers’ Federation wrote to Lorna Slater to highlight how the sector is already facing an “extremely changing trading environment” and asking for collaboration to limit “the need for further regulation and restrictions to a minimum.”

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