Zero Waste Scotland, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Green Alliance, Education Scotland and Scottish Enterprise gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament about the circular economy yesterday (14 May).

They collectively said that the circular economy should be a top priority for Government, industry and the education system in order to stimulate growth, increase productivity and create jobs in Scotland.

It follows increasing Government focus on reducing waste and boosting resource efficiency, after the Scottish Government found that by bringing about “a more resource efficient and circular economy”, the country could save £2.9bn and ensure resource security.

The evidence-giving came on the same day as Zero Waste Scotland hosted a joint event with Decom North Sea, a decommissioning forum with more than 200 members, including operators and contractors, in Aberdeen to explore the benefits of moving towards a circular economy in Scotland’s oil and gas industry.

The discussion focused on how to retain the value of materials in Scotland, so that they are reprocessed here by Scottish companies and re-used by Scottish companies, creating economic opportunities. The importance of designing products to be easily repaired and re-used, and then at end of life to be broken down to re-use the materials efficiently was also discussed.

The issue of planned obsolescence of technology was addressed, and the committee discussed possible solutions such as modular smartphones and technology repair hubs.

According to Zero Waste Scotland, the importance of new business models was also discussed, and the potential for a greater focus on leasing products rather than selling them so that manufacturers can retain the value of the materials in appliances such as washing machines or fridges.

The example of Phillips was mentioned, who are starting to move from selling light bulbs and lamps, to simply selling units of ‘lux’ with all lighting infrastructure simply rented to customers to provide the supply of light.

Zero Waste Scotland director Iain Gulland said: “The current linear model, where we produce, consume and discard, is simply not the best way to extract the full value of resources and maximise economic and environmental gains in Scotland.

“By establishing a more circular economy in Scotland – where goods are firstly designed with future reuse in mind, and then recycled and remanufactured to be used again – we can maximise the value of resources in our economy, and embed sustainability in the way we do business.

“There are opportunities to exploit in most key industries in Scotland. Decommissioning activities within the oil and gas industry, a sector which is expected to cost between £35 to £50bn between now and 2040, is a great example of potential opportunities to do things in a more economical and sustainable way – by choosing reuse or remanufacture over recycling, designing for a longer life cycle, and alternative business models such as leasing for example.

“A circular economy will not only help shield businesses from fluctuations in price and availability of key resources, but there are huge opportunities for business growth for those who can capitalise on the need to repair, reprocess, and remanufacture materials and products. This could create jobs and economic growth for Scotland.”

Leading academics have also debated about the circular economy. Professor Chris Coggins, an independent consultant, told this morning (15 May) that the emerging circular economy agenda is overlooking energy-from-waste (EfW). He argues that the founding principles of a circular economy can be equally applied to EfW – not just through renewable power generation, but through energy efficiency relating to product design and use.

Liz Gyekye

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