Having seen various waves of investment in recycling over the past 20 years or so, the recent launch of the £70m Recycling Improvement Fund feels different.
Some previous initiatives have focused simply on diverting material from landfill – any material, it didn’t really matter as long as it was heavy. There has also tended to be a focus on recycling percentage points and delivery of collection infrastructure rather than actual behaviour change of citizens or the value of the additional material being collected to both the local and national economy.
This new wave of investment comes at a unique moment in history. As we emerge from the pandemic and begin to ‘build back better’, we need to think seriously about how we do this in a way that tackles a potentially more catastrophic global crisis, climate change.
Crucially, I believe that we need another major shift in how we live our lives to truly address our impact on the environment and reduce our carbon emissions, right here in Scotland. How we manage our waste is one – albeit very important – part of the solution.
We have a huge opportunity to frame our next recycling push within the context of global action to reduce carbon emissions and get to net-zero. Increasing recycling is important but to meet our goal, we need to realise the value of our resources.
Zero Waste Scotland is arming our country with up-to-date evidence that shows the impact of unnecessary waste from food to single-use plastics and this needs to be used to set out strategies to reduce the stream, fast. It’s not only about our impact in Scotland. Our use of materials and the consumption of goods and services from around the world is costly – to the environment and to our economy. We need strategies that enable us to keep materials in use for long as possible, reusing wherever we can.
If a recent survey carried out by Zero Waste Scotland is anything to go by, Scots are increasingly concerned about the environment and are using recycling services more than they did before the pandemic. This is welcome news and indicates there is a widespread desire for more and better recycling and people are ready to do more.
Indeed, £70million offers us an opportunity to build the bridge for citizens the length and breadth of the country to take such desired action.
The investment will give Scotland’s local authorities the opportunity to take forward small and large-scale projects that increase the quality and quantity of recycling whilst delivering wider environmental, economic, and social benefits.
Increasing recycling is a good thing but it’s not enough. This funding should be targeted to deliver on our wider objectives to tackle the climate crisis. Ultimately, we need to drive a significant change in the volume of single-use materials that enter our waste stream and need to be managed.
We can see this starting to happen with discussions around producer responsibility, and the realisation around plastics use – or abuse, given the amount we use. It has created an appetite for recycled material that places even more focus on their collection.
Yes, we can provide much more improved infrastructure for the capture of valuable assets for others via this fund, but I believe we must aim for something much greater in return. Something more impactful than simple recycling percentage points and a thank you from those who continue to use single use plastics with abandon.
We have long advocated the circular economy as the solution to this challenge. Instead of our wasteful approach of make, take, and throw, we need to find new ways to keep products and materials in use for longer by designing, producing, and using them as efficiently as possible.
The Recycling Improvement Fund and the £100m Green Jobs Fund are important levers for the journey that Scotland is on to transform how we manage materials to meet our recycling and circular economy (CE) ambitions over the next five years.
Zero Waste Scotland is ready to work with partners to look strategically at national outcomes and identify the skills required for changing our system approach to using and managing materials that end up in our waste stream – whether it’s single-use plastics & packaging, small WEEE or even mattresses.
We are ready to help towns and cities think creatively about smart local solutions that support a reset of how we consume. This fund could put our kerbside and recycling centres at the heart of new high streets across Scotland, turning them into places where a circular economy thrives. Reuse and repair businesses could be commonplace all supported by increased collection and drop off points for furniture, textiles, and bikes.
This smarter end to end use of our materials will change our consumption patterns and reduce our carbon emissions. There are tight timescales relating to delivery of the fund, but its three-to-five-year lifespan means there will be tangible short-to-medium term benefits that lead to significant transformation in the long term.
I believe we need to be bolder in our thinking and this fund gives us the opportunity to do just that. We must transform our short-term attitude to materials and products if we want to leave a country fit for future generations to live in.
Zero Waste Scotland is actively seeking local authority infrastructure treatment or service projects for support, which will meet the funding criteria. Expressions of interest forms will be available shortly. The Zero Waste Scotland team is available to discuss potential projects and to support the development of applications for funding. More information is available at https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/local-authorities/recycling-improvement-fund