WHILE many organisations are now learning how to adapt their business models to the principles of the circular economy, the business education charity Young Enterprise (YE) Scotland is inspiring primary school children to take up the challenge of building companies that reuse, recycle and repair goods. YE Scotland has worked with nearly 3000 8–12-year-olds across 65 schools in Scotland to take up the Circular Economy Challenge, since 2018.

Pupils design a “circular” product or service where everything has value, nothing goes to waste, and it benefits their local community. Throughout they are supported through a range of practical tasks with the help of business sustainability ambassadors. What’s more, the programme has now expanded.

A bespoke Circular Community Challenge within primary schools in the north of Scotland is underway ahead of COP26 with the support of Wildland Limited, which is itself dedicated to a 200-year vision of ecological rehabilitation in the Scottish Highlands through investment in sustainable and thriving local communities by developing the country’s natural capital.

A Circular Construction Challenge in association with Zero Waste Scotland is established at Dundee & Angus College, where solutions are based on the built environment.

While another spin-off is the RAISE partnership in Falkirk and West Lothian schools, which focuses on STEM. As Marie Leck, School Delivery Manager at YE Scotland comments, these programmes are not only inspiring a young generation to take up the challenge of tackling climate change through enterprise but through them they are also learning the skillsets for the green jobs of the future. She says: “The circular economy challenges engage children and young people not just in the issues of sustainability in society, but in the skills needed to succeed, including teamwork, problem solving and good communication.

What they learn, they will carry forward to help make the world a better place. “The key to Learning for Sustainability as it appears in Scotland’s curriculum is to recognise that this isn’t merely an environmental issue. “While learning about waste reduction, responsible use of our planet’s resources and tackling climate change are all crucial to creating a more sustainable future, we also must create more sustainable young people.

“We want our young people to recognise their own value and worth as key participants in building a better Scotland and a better world. Our programmes help to develop creativity, resilience, skills for work, political literacy and really enable our learners to be leaders.”

The YE Scotland ‘circular’ programmes have been designed and developed in response to the growing recognition that Scotland’s children and young people need to be truly active participants in the creation of a much greener, more prosperous future for themselves and the entire planet.

They are already alive to their personal footprint and want to know what they can do to help change the direction of travel for their local communities and for the planet. The challenges introduce young people to the benefits and principles of the circular economy, through practical experience and are inspired by real-life circular business ideas.

They are also a means for them to look towards their own futures by developing the skills they need, while giving them an active voice in the future they want to see. On the launch of the Circular Economy Challenge three years ago, three young people had the opportunity to showcase their ideas to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Zara Ali, Kryzstof Tyczak and Marysia Cmiel from St Vincent’s Primary School presented a reusable pen made from contact lenses, gardening tools made from plastic bottles and a cushion made from scrapped material. Since then, the ideas from many young people have come thick and fast: Gaming chairs made from old car seats; playgrounds from discarded tyres and pallets; bee friendly planters from rescued plastic bottles; apps for renting pet clothes; apps with rewards for using public transport; bike repair services run by pupils; textile recycling services to make shoe bags and pencil cases; creating biofuel from food waste – to even dropping wildflower ‘seedbombs’ from solar-powered gliders to create bee-friendly meadows.

The climate emergency declared by the Scottish Government in 2019 remains one of our greatest challenges. The drive to support children and young people into jobs in the circular economy is crucial, both for the individuals and for the country as a whole. Zero Waste Scotland’s 2020 report on the Future of Work1, recognised the ‘huge step change’ still needed to create a national circular economy. “The unprecedented challenges brought about by the climate emergency have to be addressed at all levels of society,” concludes Marie Leck. “Building a new generation of green entrepreneurs with the skills for the new range of new green job opportunities of the future is essential.”