Scottish councils hold keys to resource efficiency
The year ahead promises radical change for Scotland's waste management industry and local authorities will be major facilitators, says Iain Gulland
Zero Waste Scotland is calling on councils to lead the way in the drive to manage Scotland's resources more efficiently.
Managing resources; maximising their value; and fostering a new role as "resource suppliers" within a circular economy should be the overarching focus informing our activities when it comes to waste and recycling collections over the next year and beyond.
At a practical level, this change is being driven forward by the Waste (Scotland) Regulation - the requirements of which start to come into effect for local authorities from 1 January 2014.
These new regulations will bring the value of our resources to the forefront, prioritising the need to treat what we commonly call "waste" as an asset with the potential to boost the Scottish economy, as well as reducing our reliance on raw materials.
In fact, achieving our target of 70% recycling by 2025 could benefit Scotland's economy by around £175m, relieving us of the cost of landfill tax and enabling revenue to be generated from the sale of high quality recyclables.
Household recycling has made significant progress, increasing to around 40% in the past decade from a starting point of less than 5%. Councils have been a driving factor in this by making more services available and helping to raise awareness and encourage participation through the "Recycle for Scotland" brand.
However, there's still a long way to go to reach our goal of becoming a zero waste society - one in which waste collections provide a "supply" of rich materials, in demand from businesses, to be cycled back through our economy again and again.
Over the past year we've seen food waste collections rolled out across Scotland - a significant step towards boosting our recycling rate. We'll be investing further to ensure that councils are able to roll-out food waste recycling services in line with good practice and with funding to help with the initial costs of these services.
The new regulations will also require the separation of key recyclable materials - paper and card, plastics, metals and glass - for recycling by 2014. Zero Waste Scotland offers technical and communications support to help councils introduce these services and ensure they are used correctly to capture the best quality of materials.
As local authorities continue to meet these minimum requirements and make great progress on recycling rates, there is increasing interest in exploring more innovative recycling options.
In 2012 we helped four councils to pilot the collection of nappies and other absorbent hygiene products (AHPs), helping to tackle the 450,000 nappies which are sent to landfill each day in Scotland. The trials will assess the feasibility of a full-scale roll out across local authority areas, which would see all councils offer an almost complete recycling collection.
There's no doubt that we've seen a tremendous increase in household recycling and our next challenge is to capture the recyclable materials we dispose of when we're out and about.
Materials like newspapers, plastic bottles and cans are commonly discarded "on-the-go" and could be very high in value when separated and collected appropriately. We've made over £1m available over the past year to install new "recycling on the go" bins and communicate their correct usage.
Nearly £1m has also been invested to trial "deposit and return" and "reverse vending" facilities, which reward recycling through a range of incentives such as money back or discount vouchers. These trials will assess the feasibility of adopting incentive-based schemes throughout Scotland.
Underpinning all our work is a focus on shifting perceptions of waste towards an understanding that these materials are valuable resources and vital for the economy.
It's important that councils work towards compliance and act as champions to promote the value of recycling, the importance of quality, and the requirements of the waste regulations within their communities.
Iain Gulland is Zero Waste Scotland's director