SCOTLAND is having to export nearly all its throwaway plastic waste as a “staggering” 1.7 million tonnes of rubbish are exported to other countries to be dealt with, The Herald on Sunday can reveal.

The revelation that nearly 15 per cent of all our waste has to leave the country has raised fresh questions over Scotland’s dreams of a green revolution and the tens of thousands of jobs it was predicted to create.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency data for 2018 has revealed we are sending a record amount of waste overseas, with some three tonnes every minute sent to places outside Scotland.

We now export nearly four-and-a-half times more waste from our borders than we did in 2004.

And of the 73,361 tonnes of plastic waste that was recycled by the nation, nearly all (98%) had to be shipped outside of Scotland.

The Scottish Government admitted that the waste export mountain was a “lost economic opportunity”.

The Scottish Conservatives, condemned the nation's waste export, and has called on ministers to bring in greater recycling capacity in Scotland in order to tackle the growing problem.  They said it would lead to reduced carbon emissions and create viable job opportunities, in the current economic climate.

Friends of the Earth Scotland was shocked by the amount of waste being exported and questioned how the nation was incapable of handling it.


According to Scottish Government figures around 80 per cent of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods, materials and services which we produce, use and often throw out after minimal use.

An estimated 300 million plastic straws, 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery, 50 million plastic plates and 66 million polystyrene food containers are used annually in Scotland.

But a study in July found that dumped plastic waste has soared during lockdown as Scots believe products are a lot safer to eat when packaged.

Scottish Environment LINK, the coalition of more than 30 leading charities and organisations said action was needed, warning that streets and beaches have become "littered" with single-use plastic pollution during the lockdown.

SEPA figures show that nearly 1.7m of the 11.5m tonnes of waste produced in Scotland was exported to be dealt with elsewhere - . Some 1.3m tonnes was waste for recycling.

That has meant that some 15 million tonnes of waste has left the country since 2007, when SNP took power.

Some 910,403 tonnes went elsewhere in the UK in 2018, with a further 675,157 was exported to Europe, while 77,343 tonnes went further than Europe.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of the leading environmental group, Friends of the Earth was shocked by the amount of waste that was being exported and questioned how the nation was not able to handle it.

"By exporting our waste we are also effectively exporting the jobs that could be created if we had our own re-processing facilities in Scotland," he said.

"Greater levels of reprocessing here would also cut down climate emissions and the costs of transporting materials, as well as providing a clear signal of a society intent on reducing waste.

"The volume of plastic that is sent overseas is staggering, especially when we consider the huge public desire for action in this area."

The current consultation on adopting the EU ban for problematic single use plastic items such as straws, cutlery and balloon sticks was seen as a welcome step towards addressing the problem of plastic at its source.

And the group says the delayed Deposit Return Scheme for cans and bottles will give a "huge boost" to recycling rates.


READ MORE: Friends of the Earth Scotland uncovered plans for the country to burn at least an extra one million tonnes of  household waste each year, threatening recycling targets

But Dr Dixon said: "The Government needs to act now to ensure that we're not just collecting these containers to then ship them off somewhere else for recycling.

"The Scottish Government has talked about the importance of a circular economy where we keep materials in use for longer through reuse and repair before eventually recycling them. Key elements of this should include rules that mean companies are forced to take responsibility for the goods they make – including how they are treated at the end of their useful life."

Details of the huge waste export comes as a company seen as key to Scotland's green jobs ambitions remains close to financial collapse after it failed to get a slice of the action in one of the country’s biggest offshore wind farms, the £2 billion Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG).

It came after the Scottish Government pulled the plug on support for the part-state owned company's bid for a to build some of the 54 steel foundation jackets which anchor the turbines to the seabed.

And the Herald on Sunday revealed fresh concerns last week about Scotland's  ambition to be the Saudi Arabia of renewables with a wind farm jobs bonanza - as fears rise over another key taxpayer-supported company, CS Wind.  It has been confirmed it is down to one full-time member of staff and has no orders.

Scotland's forecast of a jobs bonanza from the offshore wind farm revolution have been described by unions as "a pipe dream" as it emerged it has created just 6% of the 28,000 direct jobs predicted by this year.

Unions have also continued to raise concerns over Scots green jobs going abroad despite a ministerial summit promising action last year to end the "scandal".

Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary Maurice Golden said: “Every day Scots dutifully separate their waste and ensure plastic items are destined for recycling.

“It’s not unreasonable for them to expect a decent proportion of that is dealt with here.

“People will be pretty shocked at the inability of the government to recycle plastic waste.

“The issue of plastic has been high up the news agenda for years and the SNP has been in charge of this area since 2007.

“It’s simply not good enough, and we could be missing out on significant economic benefits by not creating our own recycling facilities.

Scotland's system for disposing for waste had been described by the Scottish Environmental Services Association as "disjointed" with fundamental concerns the nation will not even be prepared for a landfill ban already delayed by four years until 2025.

The Scottish government wants to stop traditional black bag waste and a range of recyclable materials being buried in the ground.

SESA, which is working to transform waste management across the country, has been calling for action to ensure that millions of tonnes of black bag waste does not end up having to be shipped from Scotland to England to be disposed of in six years time.

And it wanted councils to take more effective action to avoid the use of landfill.

Official figures revealed that in April, last year,  just 14 of Scotland's 32 councils had already made the financial investment to ensure solutions are in place before the 2021 landfill ban, accounting for just 55% of municipal waste.  This was despite the fact the planned ban was announced in 2012.

Nine councils making up 23% of municipal waste had no plan at all for the ban, while others had long-term solutions but not an interim one, or vice-versa.


READ MORE: Scotland's green jobs revolution 'on life support' as fears grow over taxpayer-backed CS Wind

A key reason for delaying the ban was that experts believed Scotland had insufficient capacity to meet the expected level of need , with a gap predicted of one million tonnes of waste per year in 2021.

There has previously been concern that while the SNP’s Zero Waste Plan set a 2013 target of 50 per cent household recycling - six years on the country were still falling short of the target, at only 44.9 per cent according to SEPA in 2019.

Last month a survey of Scots in the north-east found that more than 80 percent of people were concerned about the volume of single-use plastic items and packaging and would support regulations that limit their use.

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The survey coincides with a public consultation over plans to Scottish ministers' plans to restrict some of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastic items in Scotland, including plastic cutlery and plastic straws.

If approved, new legislation would restrict the supply of single-use plastic plates, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, polystyrene food and drink containers, beverage stirrers, plastic balloon sticks and products made from oxo-degradable plastics. Reusable alternatives would continue to be widely available.

These are the most common items found on European beaches and were identified in the EU Single Plastics Directive as contributing the majority share of litter found in the marine environment.

The Marine Conservation Society’s 2019 Beach Clean reported an average 492 items of litter per 100 metres of beach in Scotland, with the majority being single-use plastic or polystyrene.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our commitment to being a net-zero society by 2045 is unwavering. While we have made significant progress towards our ambitious targets, we know there is still work to be done to reduce waste further and develop a thriving circular economy to support this goal.

“In 2019, the whole-life carbon impacts of Scotland’s household waste reached their lowest level since official recording began. Our Programme for Government 2020/21 includes £70 million to improve recycling collection infrastructure and develop a new route map to reduce waste, and we are consulting on plans to ban some of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastic items such as cutlery and straws.

“We also want to be able to manage more of our own waste within Scotland, as around 14% is currently processed elsewhere, representing a lost economic opportunity. Our deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers from July 2022 will support more opportunities for reprocessing plastic, and we are working to encourage reprocessing investments to create jobs and a ready supply of recycled material."