Scotland makes climate case for circular economy

A circular economy in Scotland would reduce carbon emissions by up to 11 million tonnes a year without sacrificing the nation's financial prosperity, a new report from Zero Waste Scotland has found.

The report – The Carbon Impacts of the Circular Economy – is one of the first studies of its kind to model the impact of circular economy strategies at a national level on greenhouse gas emissions.

Previous studies have indicated the considerable economic opportunities of a circular economy, but this is one of the first to clearly show it can help combat climate change and contribute to national and international agreements to reduce emissions.

Building momentum

Using Zero Waste Scotland’s ground-breaking ‘Carbon Metric’ – which essentially measures the carbon impact of waste – the report compares a 2012 baseline with four different potential scenarios that could occur by 2050; ranging from business as usual through to a full adoption of a circular economy.

Based on territorial accounting (which excludes emissions related to international shipping, aviation and the embedded emissions in imported goods and services), the report concluded that a circular economy scenario in 2050 would produce an estimated 10.9 MtCO2e less than a business-as-usual scenario, and 21 MtCO2e less than the 2012 baseline.

Zero Waste Scotland’s chief executive Iain Gulland said: “This report shows that a circular economy – where we move away from a ‘take, make and dispose’ society – could have a huge impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. 

“There’s real momentum behind the circular economy with policy roadmaps in development both here in Scotland and at the European level.  This report adds further impetus to efforts to place the circular economy at the heart of mainstream economic and environmental policy.”

Towards zero

Other key findings from the report include: –

Scotland’s material consumption accounts for 68-74% of its entire carbon footprint.
Almost one in every five tonnes of material flowing through the Scottish economy is waste.
Regardless of carbon accounting methodology (territorial vs. consumption), achieving a more circular economy would help Scotland reduce its carbon emissions without sacrificing economic prosperity.

Scotland has set ambitious targets for moving towards zero waste, with an aim for 70% of waste to be recycled and a maximum of 5% sent to landfill by 2025. To help achieve these targets, the country recently launched the Scottish Institute for Remanufacture – the first major research institute in Europe tasked with growing remanufacturing businesses and driving the circular economy.

More recently, Zero Waste Scotland announced it would be recruiting more than 1,000 ‘zero waste volunteers’ to support its mission to reduce food waste; boost recycling rates and promote re-use, repairing and sharing across the country.


Luke Nicholls

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