SNP and Green ministers are under fire after statistics revealed the proportion of plastic being recycled in Scotland has plummeted over the last decade – with just over 5% of the waste dealt with internally.

The Scottish Government has set ambitious recycling targets including a landfill ban in just two years’ time, but concerns have been raised that Scotland does not have the capacity to recycle its own plastic waste.

The fears come after data from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) shows that Scotland only recycled around 5% of its own plastic waste – with the bulk sent to be processed across the rest of the UK, as well as exported to Europe and beyond.

The low domestic recycling rate adds further concerns to the Scottish Government’s troubled deposit return scheme, which aims to ensure plastic containers are returned to the point of sale with a charge returned to consumers.

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The plans have been put on hold after the UK Government changed policy and no longer wants glass to be included, refusing to grant an exemption under the controversial Internal Market Act.

The latest available figures from Sepa, for 2021, show that only 5% of plastic waste is recycled in Scotland, compared to 32% in 2012 and 22% in 2013.

Data reveals that a total of 78,100 tonnes of plastic waste was recycled outside of Scotland in 2021 – with the vast majority, 71,757 tonnes, dealt with in the rest of the UK, more than 5,000 tonnes in Europe and 1,261 tonnes outwith Europe.

Only 4,418 tonnes of plastic waste was recycled in Scotland in 2021.

Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden, said: “I think most people would be stunned to learn Scotland only manages to recycle 5% of its own plastic.

“They’d also be right to question the Scottish Government why this figure is so much lower than a decade ago.

“The recycling of plastic has long been identified as crucial from both an environmental and an economic point of view.”

He added: “For this to have been the case for so long, and for Scotland still to have such low capability in doing this, is inexcusable.

The Herald: Conservative MSP Maurice GoldenConservative MSP Maurice Golden (Image: PA)

“Every morsel of plastic sent abroad for recycling represents a missed opportunity.

“It should not have been beyond the wit of successive Scottish government to ensure we had the capability to recycle our own plastic waste.”

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Scotland remains way off track meeting a proposed landfill ban and meeting a target of recycling 70% of waste by 2025.

Sepa statistics show recycling rates sat at 43.3% of all waste generated in 2022, rising by just 0.3 percentage points since the previous year.

While rates have increased by almost four percentage points since 2011, they have fallen since the peak of 45.6% in 2017.

The figures also show that, for the first time, more household waste is being sent to incineration than landfill in Scotland.

David Harley, Sepa’s interim chief officer of circular economy, said: “Sepa supports the move towards a more circular economy where our finite resources are used efficiently, and less waste is produced.

“Our data shows Scotland is recycling more plastic than ever.

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“We want Scotland to realise the full economic and environmental opportunity of recycling and we’re working closely with Scottish Government, Zero Waste Scotland and the industry to support new Scottish waste infrastructure.”

He added: “The data also highlights the legitimate trade in plastic waste across the UK and abroad.

“When exporting plastic waste, we must take care to ensure it doesn’t become another country’s environmental problem and Sepa monitors, inspects and works with other countries to this end.

“Where non compliances are detected, we investigate and carry out enforcement action if required.”

Zero Waste Scotland has stressed the importance of getting the deposit return scheme up and running.

A Zero Waste Scotland spokesperson said: "One of the core benefits of introducing a deposit return scheme is more recycling and better quality of recycling.

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“This is important as good quality recycling means the containers can be recycled back into high-quality materials for use again and again. Glass back into glass, cans back into cans and plastic bottles back into plastic bottles.

“It’s a benefit to producers and manufacturers who are looking for high-quality recycled content, and a great example of the circular economy in action."

The Scottish Government is pressing UK ministers to ban plastic waste exports by 2030, as recommended by statutory independent advisers, the Climate Change Committee.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Reducing waste is key to our climate ambitions and it is good to see Scottish households generating the lowest levels on record. With the amount of waste going to landfill down by nearly half over the last ten years, we are making good progress.

“As well as reducing waste, we are clear that we must take responsibility for our own waste, managing and processing as much as possible here in Scotland.

“We are taking action to boost Scotland's capacity to manage its own waste, to strengthen public confidence in where recycling goes and to ensure more and better quality recycling. This will create significant economic opportunities and jobs while improving our environment.

“We have already supported 21 councils to reduce waste and increase recycling rates through our £70 million recycling improvement fund, which is directly investing in recycling and reuse facilities across Scotland, and we are continuing to work with potential investors to expand our reprocessing capacity.”