By John Crawford

THE recent excellent Agenda column on Scotland’s incineration policy (“Balance must be struck in waste policy”, The Herald, June 21) reminded me about the Scottish Government’s current consultation, Driving Scotland’s Circular Economy. Sadly, it doesn’t provide much evidence of the type of foresight and innovation the article calls for. It does however rehearse some well-publicised previous strategies including:

• A ban on the landfilling of biodegradable waste. This was due to start in January 2021 but was postponed when it emerged that Scotland didn’t have enough installed treatment capacity to cope, meaning many thousands of tonnes of our waste would have to be trucked to England for disposal resulting in vast increases in council tax, and closing down many small Scottish businesses, never mind the associated increases in vehicular transport, emissions and carbon footprints;

• The mandatory separation of household recyclate. This was actually introduced in 2000 by the Scottish Parliament and made significant advances in our recycling performances (initially three per cent that had grown to around 50% by 2006). It has since stalled due to a combination of the Scottish Government’s fiddling with the councils’ funding, and allowing councils to charge householders extra for collecting their separated garden waste;

• A Deposit Return Scheme. This is generally accepted as being unworkable in its present form, but if ever implemented would probably reduce current recycling performances.

There are the usual fine words and sound bites that are now apparently obligatory in any official document these days, but other than that, little to suggest that they have much of an idea how to deliver the "circular economy". That’s hard to accept when Zero Waste Scotland employs over 85 personnel.

Although the consultation wasn’t opened until May 30 and doesn’t close until August 22, Lorna Slater, the new Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, has already made it clear (on June 16) that "incineration" (her description of the process known as "energy from waste" that has been successfully used on the Continent for decades) has no place in Scotland’s future waste strategies. Her decision is based on a report commissioned from a consultant whose main expertise is in air pollution and is thought to have little if any practical expertise in the thermal treatment of waste. So clearly the "consultation" is already compromised.

What seems to have been lost in all this is that EU membership requires compliance with its Landfill Directive that sets out staged reductions in the tonnages of waste member countries can landfill. Despite a special concession made for the UK, no part of it (including Scotland) could have met the directive’s 2020 targets and if we hadn’t left, the EU would have fined us. Those fines would have been directly passed on to council tax payers.

That’s all academic now, but if Scottish Government is serious about promoting a circular economy, it will take more than fine words and glossy brochures to achieve.

And energy from waste (not "incineration’) has a contributory role to play.

The author spent many decades in the Scottish Waste Management Industry