The goal of the circular economy is simple – making our precious resources last. But beyond the environmental imperative, there is the equally simple motive of economic opportunity.

Both drivers were central to discussions at Circular Economy Hotspot Scotland, the third in a now annual series of international circular economy business showcases, which was held from October 30 to November 1 in Glasgow. Delivered by Zero Waste Scotland, the event profiled more than 50 Scottish circular economy organisations to an international audience, including policy makers, academics and businesses.

Hosting the event was a mark of recognition of Scotland’s efforts to grow its circular economy. But what we have achieved to date is just a drop in the ocean compared to the full potential of economic and environmental benefits.

Zero Waste Scotland commissioned reports into the economic opportunities of going circular in two of Scotland’s cities and regions – Tayside and Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. We calculated the potential economic benefits of the circular economy to be up to £1bn in those two regions alone. Of course, these figures are indicative and there’s a huge amount of work to be done if we want to turn that potential into reality.

Scottish businesses are doing great work to make it happen. I was recently in Japan and Indonesia and there’s a huge appetite to learn from Scotland’s experiences. But while I love speaking about our successes and what we’ve learned, it’s hard to bring circular businesses to life in front of a PowerPoint presentation in a conference hall. Hosting Circular Economy Hotspot Scotland in Glasgow gave me the chance to turn that dynamic on its head, by bringing a global audience right to Scottish businesses.

Among them was Highland Galvanizers, who hosted an international delegation to discuss their work to extend the safe working life of motorway crash barriers. It’s a classic circular economy vision – reducing harmful emissions while delivering economic savings. The company has pioneered a way of re-coating barriers before rust sets in, so that the steel is preserved and can remain in use for at least another 25 more years.

This process is currently being piloted in the south east of Scotland, in partnership with Transport Scotland and could deliver savings of £4m and 8,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the region over the typical barrier lifetime.

Of course, having examples of the circular economy in action isn’t enough. We need to make it second nature if that full economic potential is to be realised. We’re not there yet – that’s why Zero Waste Scotland continues to give funding to help bring circular ideas to market.

At the Hotspot, the First Minister announced more than £700,000 of investment in circular economy businesses. But as the economic opportunities become clearer, we are seeing the private sector stepping up with funding support. There’s an increasing recognition that this is good business practice. Private backing for Project Beacon, the advanced plastics reprocessing facility being developed in Perthshire, far outstrips the funds put up by the public sector.


Transport Scotland is partnering with business to ensure that steel is preserved and can remain in use for longer.

Project Beacon pulls together four different businesses to deliver their vision, one example of collaboration in the circular economy paying off. Of the businesses that took part in the Hotspot, there weren’t many making it happen on their own.

Eliminating waste requires partnership across supply chains, between businesses and across sectors. And Zero Waste Scotland isn’t supporting the circular economy on our own – the event was ‘‘ What we have achieved is a drop in the ocean compared to the full potential of economic and environmental benefits made possible due to the support of the European Regional Development Fund which also supports some of the financial support we give to Scottish businesses.

The next Hotspot will be in Belgium, and Catalonia won the competition to hold the 2020 event. With a clear global appetite for circular economy growth, I’m proud that Scotland, and our unique industries and businesses, are playing a leading role in demonstrating how circular businesses practices can work in the real world.

Iain Gulland is Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland

The Herald’s Climate for Change initiative supports efforts being made by the Scottish Government with key organisations and campaign partners. Throughout the year we will provide a forum in The Herald newspaper, online at and in Business HQ magazine, covering news and significant developments in this increasingly crucial area.


In association with ...

The Scottish Environment 
Protection Agency (SEPA)
A non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government oversees environmental regulation, monitors and reports on the state of the environment, raises awareness of environmental issues, and resolves environmental harms.

Zero Waste Scotland
A publicly-funded organisation working towards a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted. It attempts to influence and enable change by gathering evidence, supporting positive projects and providing technical advice and training.

Low Carbon Scotland
Organiser of conferences and events aimed at addressing the current carbon reduction position, enabling those leading and driving policies and proposals to share their vision, and highlighting Scotland as the best place in which to invest in low-carbon businesses.

Interested in becoming a Climate for Change partner? Contact Stephen McTaggart on 0141 302 6137.