By John Crawford

THE Scottish Government has a Consultation Document out for new legislation that is supposed to “reduce waste, litter, carbon and resource footprint, increase recycling rates and the quality of recyclate as well as maximising economic opportunities”. The waste streams targeted include single-use disposable beverage cups, food waste, clothing and textiles. The document also claims that Scotland is “leading the way in introducing a ban on landfilling untreated municipal waste” (despite its introduction in January 2021 has had to be postponed indefinitely after it emerged there isn’t sufficient capacity in the country to treat all this waste). This “new approach” will help with the litter problem.

When the ramifications of the EU Waste Directive became clear (after John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty), the Scottish Executive (Government) launched the Strategic Waste Fund, ring-fenced for councils to organise new kerbside recycling schemes, waste recycling centres and new recycling treatment contracts. The response was immediate and impressive: by 2005 Scotland’s councils were the UK leaders and achieving recycling rates of 35 per cent and over. A lot of the technical input was provided by the Caledonian Environment Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University. The centre had developed a programme that accurately predicted and forecast the amounts of recyclate that could be collected from the various alternative schemes available at the time. The centre was independent and able to co-ordinate good practice and feedback to fine-tune existing schemes as well as introducing innovations such as joint purchasing of vehicles and plant, offering tenders for the treatment of collected recyclate to take advantages of economies of scale. To be fair, the poorest recycling rates were mainly in the cities in areas with flatted properties.

The EU Directive sets out weight-based targets so it wasn’t surprising that the councils’ schemes were aimed at glass, paper, cans, and garden waste.

In 2007/8, however, the new Government removed the ring-fencing: meaning councils could use it for any service. It also set up Zero Waste Scotland using funding previously given to other agencies so a lot of the income for the Caledonian Centre dried up and it closed a few years later. Zero Waste reports directly to Scottish Government, so all independent influences have been lost. Since then Scotland’s recycling rates have stagnated. Councils have been allowed to introduce charges for uplifting garden waste (ironically one of the easiest streams to collect and compost) and it’s also suspected that the supporters of separate food waste collections have been inflating the tonnages by including food packaging. Some councils have abandoned separate food waste collections due to the additional costs and the poor quality of product collected.

In the Consultation, Zero Waste Scotland boasts about “funding new kerbside collections in Shetland” (where the waste is incinerated) but makes no mention of how it intends to address the poor separation and recycling rates in the cities. The document also highlights the 5p carrier bag charge but ignores the fact that these were the most re-used item in the waste stream and that the statistics used to justify the 5p charge are grossly understated by the enumerator (the Quango WRAP), which, being a charity, benefits from the net proceeds of the charge. Not surprisingly, the 5p charge has made no impact whatsoever on the litter problem.

Neither does the consultation suggest where all the extra recyclate is to be treated and converted into new products (assuming the new legislation works)? And the treatment end is where most sensible waste managers would start.

The author spent more than 50 years in the Scottish Waste Industry