By Terry A’Hearn 

From climate change to the circular economy, Scotland is driving globally ambitious, internationally recognised policy with a purpose.  It’s a policy that recognises the economic, as well as environmental, opportunity of a more sustainable Scotland.

Without natural resources we can neither meet our daily needs for life nor create prosperity. However, the rate of resource use today considerably exceeds the planet’s regeneration capacity.

The most successful countries in the 21st century will be resource efficient, circular economies, which do not produce significant quantities of waste. A circular economy keeps materials in use for as long as possible and extracts maximum value from them.

This great challenge is now reflected in SEPA’s Statutory Purpose directing us to protect and improve the environment, including the sustainable use of resources, in ways that as far as possible create social and economic success.

For us the circular economy as a game-changing opportunity to:

  • Manage resources within planetary limits;
  • Reduce the harms associated with waste management;
  • Create economic opportunities.
  • Supporting Scotland’s sustainable businesses

At SEPA, we’re helping Scottish businesses recognise the opportunities of sustainability and resource efficiency.  Not only can resource efficiency improve productivity, and the bottom line for business, it can bring ‘end of pipe’ environmental improvements and reduce our reliance on virgin raw materials.  21st century regulation must put resource efficiency at the heart of its work.

We work with industry to identify innovative opportunities to displace virgin raw materials with secondary materials (like recycled glass in Scotch whisky bottles) and pilot new technologies and techniques within a framework of strong environmental protection. This will include using all our regulatory influences and promoting support services from partners.

We also help showcase and celebrate success.  Each year, the SEPA and Scottish Government led VIBES – Scottish Environment Business Awards – showcase the best of Scotland’s sustainable businesses.  Delivered with partners, they’re supported by CBI Scotland, the Institute of Directors (IoD), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Bright Green Business, Quality Scotland and Scottish Council for Development and Industry.

At SEPA, we’ll back legitimate businesses by getting tough on waste crime, which impacts not only communities, but companies seeking to do the right thing.

While recent years have seen a significant focus by consumers, households, communities and businesses on reuse and recycling, Scotland’s recycling and waste sector has long held an unenviable record of falling foul of Scotland’s environment watchdog.

The waste regime had the highest number of cases referred to COPFS (42%), final warning letters (46%) and statutory notices served (48%), as well as the most convictions (38%) of regulated sectors secured in 2016 – 2017.

Compliance is non-negotiable, with the agency’s dedicated waste crime and intelligence teams securing a series of high-profile outcomes for local communities. These included the clearing of 1,500 tonnes of illegally deposited waste and chemicals from a site in Newton Mearns, and revoking the license of a significant West of Scotland operation, GBS Recycling Limited in Coatbridge which was found to be stockpiling waste on site beyond the time limits allowed, causing significant fly and odour issues from the neighbouring community.

In addition to targeted intelligence and enforcement campaigns to crack down on waste crime, the agency is working with businesses investing in high-tech recycling solutions that drive positive environmental outcomes. As a result of SEPA’s firm focus, overall compliance within the sector has risen to 90.35% in 2016 from 72.48% in 2009.

So whether it’s supporting Scotland’s sustainable businesses by focusing on waste, raw materials, water, energy and heat, or getting tough on waste crime, SEPA is working hard to help realise the environmental and economic opportunities of a circular economy.

Terry A’Hearn is Chief Executive of SEPA