By Malcolm Todd, Waste management expert and former managing director of Shore Recycling Ltd

IF 2018 was best described as “a year of uncertainty”, then 2019 should be ‘a year of urgency’.

Don’t worry, this isn’t yet another Brexit diatribe. In many ways it’s more important than that. Political structures come and go, but resources, economics and landscapes don’t.

Mindful of Scotland’s natural resources, unique beauty, and economic challenges, the Scottish Government has set out signposts for energy sourcing, climate change and the need for what is known as the “circular economy”. That is when we keep resources in use for as long as possible, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their life.

Unfortunately, the direction of travel along the path from strategy to action is not quick enough.

We all watched in awe and horror as the Blue Planet II TV series showed us the impact of our attitudes towards plastics.

But individual action isn’t enough; we need strong leadership to address and tackle the obstacles to converting strategies in to sustainability.

There are some huge challenges on the horizon. Central to this is our attitude to – and treatment of – waste and energy.

A ban on biodegradable domestic waste going to landfill comes into force in Scotland in January 2021 as part of the Scottish Government’s climate change strategy. Yet we are still putting 45 per cent of our domestic waste into holes in the ground – so that’s one million tonnes needing an alternative home within the next two years.

That’s why 2019 must be a year of urgency.

Yes, we can – and must – recycle more. But the rate of recycling has plateaued in recent years, so it cannot be expected to solve this scale of problem in time.

We could choose to continue to export the waste, or should I say, export the problem.

In 2016 Scotland exported 1.6million tonnes of waste. Half of it went elsewhere in the UK, 43 per cent to the EU (and who knows if that will continue to be open to us), with the remainder going directly to far-flung places globally.

It is all exported in accordance with regulations and protocols, but it doesn’t make moral or economic sense to pay to ship and dispose of waste that should be dealt with at home.

To sustainably plug this gap, we need to start treating waste as a valuable resource – and not simply an inconvenient cost. Our European neighbours take in UK waste because they have embraced the generation of heat and power from waste – as well as enjoying the revenues that our country pays them.

England has also woken up to the contribution made by waste-to-energy plants, which gasify waste to generate fuel. This is residual waste, left over after all practicable recycling has taken place, turned into an asset we use at home.

There is much talk by all political persuasions about the circular economy, but currently we seem to have limited our short-term ambitions to worthy schemes like plastic bottle deposit schemes. Waste-to-energy plans are the circular economy in real action.

An urgent sustainable plan is needed so that landfill diversion by 2021 becomes a reality and not a last-minute panic. By integrating this with the plans of the recovery energy sector, we can have a solution before it becomes a problem.

Yes, large-scale energy schemes are costly and take a long time to come to fruition. But with political will, and existing private business commitment, this can become a reality in time.

If we fail to take urgent action now, it will be too late.