Scotland shows independent-mindedness when it comes to the circular economy

The people of Scotland may have rejected separation from the UK in the recent referendum, but the country is developing a strong independent voice in the sustainability field, particularly with moves towards becoming a more circular economy.

A year ago Scotland became the first country to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy 100 programme. And the country appears determined to use collaborative research and development to help advance new technologies that can recover value from bio-waste and waste plastics to make them viable at a commercial scale.

The record-breaking sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur set up EMF in 2010 with the goal of accelerating the transition to a circular economy – one in which resources are kept in use as long as possible, with products and materials recovered and regenerated at the end of each service life. This is in contrast to a traditional linear economy (where products are made, used and disposed of) and involves factors such as design for re-use, new or enhanced recovery models and the introduction of new business models.

Scotland is facilitating the move towards zero waste

The CE100 programme works to support business in unlocking this commercial opportunity and to enable them to benefit from first mover advantages. Partners include Unilever, Renault, Cisco, Phillips and Kingfisher.

With environmental issues already devolved to the Scottish parliament, the vote by Scots in last month’s referendum to remain part of the UK will not have any bearing on Scottish environmental strategy, analysts say. However, some see the Scottish government’s commitment to CE100 as reflecting a growing divergence with Westminster on how far the state should be involved in contributing towards a circular economy.

“We have played a full and enthusiastic part in the work of CE100 in the last year,” a Scottish government spokeswoman says. “This has involved developing Charters – new pilot initiatives for key products and material supply chains which are aimed at achieving more circular use of resources and are due to commence in 2015.” The Charters are the EMF’s approach to getting its members to identify and agree the priority areas.

Scotland has also contributed to Project Mainstream, a collaboration between CE100 and the World Economic Forum focusing on mainstreaming the recyclability of key materials, such as commonly used plastics, to stimulate the transformation to circularity in global supply chains.

Another priority is to link the CE100 network to leading Scottish small and medium-sized companies. That will enable innovative Scottish firms to develop potential business opportunities with others in the CE100 – including multinationals and leading academics. In the past year CE100 has expanded from around 20 members to more than 70.

Just before it joined the network, the Scottish government launched Zero Waste Scotland, which supports organisations to save money via more efficient use of resources. This contrasts with Westminster, where in 2012 the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural affairs announced it was “stepping back” from big chunks of resource management.


In Scotland, innovative businesses wishing to get involved in reprocessing and remanufacturing but struggling to gain funding from conventional commercial routes may benefit from the Scottish Loan Fund run by Scottish Enterprise. Already this is available to the plastics packaging industry through the Scottish Plastic Loan Fund, and there are discussions about expanding it into textiles and electronics.

The UK government, meanwhile, repealed Site Waste Management Plans (SWPs) in December 2013 as part of the government’s Red Tape Challenge to cut the administrative burden on businesses. Companies involved in construction or demolition projects worth £300,000 or more previously had to complete an SWP. Instead this is now best practice rather than mandatory. Other measures such as charging for single use carrier bags may not come into effect until as late as autumn 2015 in England, whereas in Scotland a 5p cost will be imposed from 20 October this year.

Jonny Hazell of the independent thinktank Green Alliance says the Scottish model is both more positive and more realistic. “Defra’s stated strategy of leaving it to the market ignores the fact that realising some resource recovery opportunities, such as better reuse of electronic and electrical products or high quality plastic recycling, requires co-ordination and collaboration at a scale beyond the ability of an individual local authority or business to deliver,” he says.

“Policy ambition in Scotland massively outstrips the rest of the UK. Westminster is too reliant on voluntary approaches, for instance with collection systems for recycling materials, whereas in Scotland there is increasing standardisation.”

CE100  circular economy  Ellen MacArthur  green economy  recycling  scotland  UK referendum 

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