MSP hits out at UK’s ‘reluctance’ over circular economy

EXCLUSIVE: Britain's transition to a circular economy is being stifled by an unenthusiastic Government that is seemingly reluctant to support EU regulation, according to Scotland's Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead.

Speaking exclusively to edie yesterday (25 June), Lochhead said it was “embarrassing” to see the progress that other EU Member States have made on waste and resource management, when compared with the UK.

“Any time you discuss anything to do with the environment in Brussels, it’s always my impression that, if there is support from the UK, it’s often reluctant with a lukewarm response,” Lochhead said. 

“The UK Government doesn’t show the same enthusiasm as 99% of the other countries that go into negotiations about the environmental agenda – particularly when it comes to things like the circular economy package.

“There’s a lot of momentum building in relation to the circular economy at the moment – it’s happening in Scotland and right across Europe and hopefully it will eventually happen at UK Government level as well. That’s the missing link at the moment – the weakest link.”

Balancing act

The reason for the UK’s tepid attitude towards the circular economy, according to Lochhead, is a mind-set that Europe should not be interfering in our environmental regulation, mixed with a lack of understanding about the economic benefits such regulations could bring.

Euro-scepticism gets in the way of what’s right for the environment,” said the MSP. “And I suspect they’re not getting the balance quite right between the views of business and the views of the public and the needs of the environment as well as the economy.

“This is not just environmentalism, which the Tories not a big fan of. It’s about the economy. If that’s the number one priority for them – and the environment is not important – perhaps we could link up the two debates and actually use the economic benefits as a hook for being more ambitious with our approach to the circular economy.”

Incidentally, Lochhead’s comments came on the same day as the release of a major new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which revealed that a pan-European transition to a circular economy would generate around €1.8trn of benefit for European economies every year. And on Wednesday, seperate research from Imperial College London concluded that closed-loop economic systems could boost UK GDP by £29bn over the next decade.


Lochhead was appointed Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the environment back in 2007. During his time in office, Scotland has seen a 39% reduction in waste to landfill thanks, in part, to his creation of Zero Waste Scotland – a distinct entity charged with accelerate the country’s zero-waste ambition.

But the path to zero waste has not been without its challenges. A nationwide target to recycle or compost half of all household waste by 2013 was hit by just nine of 32 councils, with an ambitious 75% target set by 2025.

Lochhead believes the key to reaching that target will be in making recycling schemes more consistent and connecting local and central government.

“We can’t have different levels of quality across the country in the recyclate that’s being collected,” he said. “We all need to be heading in the same direction. “More of the same would not improve our recycling rates sufficiently.”

Recycling charter

As such, Lochhead yesterday announced details of a ‘household recycling charter’ – a joint initiative between Scottish Ministers and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) – which will make it easier for people to recycle, with more consistent systems and communications.

If agreed by council leaders later in the summer, all local authorities will be invited to sign up to the new charter, effectively making recycling schemes more consistent across the country.

“The biggest challenge I always foresaw was being unable to make progress without the support of local Government,” added Lochhead. “That’s why I’m pleased to get this Charter in place; to have a more coordinated, standardised approach from the councils.

“It will now hopefully mean that local and central government in Scotland are pointing in the same direction. We all finally agree on the fact that we are missing out on the environmental, social and economic benefits of capitalising on this agenda.”

Lochhead was speaking to edie shortly after giving the keynote speech at a waste a resource management conference held by CIWM in London.

Luke Nicholls

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