Can Scotland zero in on waste?

As Scotland calculates what it needs to achieve a zero waste society, Dean Stiles asks if it is a number crunching exercise too far

Zero Waste Plan for Scotland is being mapped out with the Scottish Government consulting on a strategy that will set targets on prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting, and set caps on energy-from-waste and landfill above those already established by UK and EU legislation. “The zero waste concept is aspirational, but it is a positive challenge for all those involved in developing a more sustainable approach to waste and resource use,” says Duncan Simpson, at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management’s Scottish centre.

The Scottish Government acknowledges that waste will never be completely eliminated, but zero waste means eliminating the unnecessary use of raw materials as well as sustainable design, resource efficiency and waste prevention, reusing products where possible, and recovering value from products when they reach the end of their lives either through recycling, composting or energy recovery.

Few people have any dispute with this definition but many local authorities privately express concern over funding. “It is a critical question and many in the industry are asking whether the money is available to deliver this strategy,” admits Simpson. “Some of the key issues include the need for better interaction with the planning system to deliver the infrastructure that will be needed and a clear understanding about what the priorities are for local authorities in delivering the range of targets.”

According to Stephen Freeland, policy executive at the Scottish Environmental Services Association (SESA), there is an even greater need for the Scottish Government to focus on providing adequate funding for local authorities, coupled with efforts to reduce non-market constraints preventing the timely delivery of new plant, such as planning.

He warns that the Government must not underestimate the lead-in times before new waste treatment infrastructure becomes operational and able to contribute to recycling and diversion targets. “Procurement and then construction of a large treatment plant may take four to five years, which does not even account for the vagaries of the planning consent regime, which could add anything up to another two years to the process. It may take up to seven years to deliver new waste plants, which means that Scotland runs the risk of not having sufficient waste treatment capacity to meet the 2013 targets,” he points out.

Confidence boost for infrastructure

SESA wants the Zero Waste Plan to provide adequate provision towards waste planning to provide the industry with the confidence to invest in new waste management infrastructure and offer local authorities the policy framework to identify, allocate, and protect sites suitable for waste management development. Freeland says the plan should establish the number, type, location and capacity of existing waste treatment facilities.

It should also scope out the scale, capacity and broad location of facilities that would be required to manage the totality of Scotland’s waste arisings in line with European and national waste targets and waste growth rates. SESA has consistently called for the Scottish Government to acknowledge the important role of energy-for-waste (EfW) in contributing towards the country’s landfill diversion targets and carbon reduction commitments.

“In seeking to place a cap on EfW the Scottish Government’s approach is unnecessarily negative and plays down the role of this technology,” argues Freeland. “There is no evidence to substantiate their concerns that development of EfW would be incompatible with higher rates of recycling and efforts to prevent waste.”

Freeland says the plan should detail the Government’s commitment to accelerate green procurement – enlarging the domestic market for secondary materials in this way would mitigate susceptibility to fluctuations in global markets and stimulate overall demand for recycled materials. Experience has shown that the Scottish Government is unlikely to obtain the level of detailed waste data required to support a robust Zero Waste Plan without significant reform to the collection and management of waste data, particularly for the non-MSW stream. SESA suggests that the plan places a mandatory obligation on producers of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste to make data returns directly to SEPA.

Welcome developments include the stronger emphasis on C&I waste and the acknowledgement that the burden should not fall solely on local authorities. “Making sectors that are responsible for putting material into MSW stream more accountable for this waste and removing some of the cost from the taxpayer is one of the proposals that we would like to see explored more fully in the future,” says Simpson.

Dean Stiles is a freelance journalist

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