Scotland Recycling: Zero Waste Plan and Beyond

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Written for Coursera (MOOC) Class ‘Global Sustainable Energy, Past, Present and Future‘ by the University of Florida (June 2013).

In Scotland, the devolved government launched ‘Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan’ in 2010.  Prior to this, recycling rates were steadily increasing in step with environmental awareness amongst the populous of 5.3 million.  This plan forms part of the suite of publications which supports the climate change legislation, Climate Change Delivery Plan (2009) and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

These policies are aligned within the European Union ‘Waste Framework Directive’.

The main targets of the plan are for 70% recycling of all waste and a 5% landfill limit by 2025.  It aims to achieve this by adopting the hierarchical; waste prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery, approach.

The presentation document also highlights the need for landfill bans for specific wastes, improved source segregation and separate collection of waste and restrictions on inputs to energy from waste.  The plan includes the instigation of regulatory reporting of resource use by all businesses, to give a clearer picture of current waste levels and future improvements.

In 2008, Scotland produced almost 20 million tonnes of waste.

PIE_Scotland Waste

Recognition of the national mindset change required towards viewing waste product as a potential resource, as well as encouraging local authorities to take a lead role in this transformation by providing clear information regarding good waste management habits and collection practices, lie at the heart of the plan.

The Scottish government sees waste as an economic opportunity rather than a problem.  It’s strategy is to develop sustainable, high value markets for recycled waste, and it aims to provide support in the development of infrastructure to this end.

Together with SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency), and the local authorities, the government aims to raise awareness of the need for local and personal responsibility in waste management, through education.  Community buy-in is seen as crucial to the success of this initiative.

Local Authority Collection

It is the responsibility of the 32 local authorities (councils) in Scotland to collect and ‘dispose of’ waste in their area.

Video Link >  Recycle Now (Waste & Resource Action Programme):


PIC_Recycling Collection

In my area, there is an alternating weekly collection of waste put into colour coded 240 litre ‘wheely bins’, one week green/black general non-recycled waste, the next week blue recycle waste.  The recycle bin is only for plastic bottles, paper and card, and tins and cans.

Video Links >  Recycle Now (Waste & Resource Action Programme):

Plastic Bottles

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PIC_Recycling Cans

Urban areas also benefit from a garden waste collection in brown bins, which accepts grass cuttings, hedge trimmings etc.

Video Link >  Recycle Now (Waste & Resource Action Programme):

Garden Waste

PIC_Recycling Garden Waste

Video Link >  Recycle Now (Waste & Resource Action Programme):

Materials Recycling Facility (MRF)

PIC_Recycling Garden MRF

British Glass in their ‘Glass Sustainability Report’ of 2007, states that ‘Glass recycling is an important environmental measure as it works for sustainability across the lifecycle.’

In comparison to recycling glass back into new glass containers, it says ‘alternative uses, such as aggregates, deliver lower levels of reduction in CO2, the glass industry believes strongly that all alternative markets will be important to meeting higher targets and provide a better environmental use than landfill.’

‘The amount of glass recycled to make new bottles and jars increased by 10,000 tonnes to a record 752,000 tonnes during 2006 according to estimates from British Glass. This means that UK manufactured bottles and jars contained an average of 35.5 per cent of recycled glass.’

This suggests that there are no significant quality issues arising from using recycled glass as a feedstock.  In a review of British Glass literature on recycling I found no reference to quality concerns.

My local council state that other plastic containers and bags are not accepted due to possible contamination by contents and the difficulty in identifying and sorting the various types of plastic, and due to the lack of reliable markets for this type of recyclate.  This is a barrier to higher recycling rates.

However, the council promises that as new markets emerge, more materials will be accepted for recycling.  So the solution is to develop these markets.

Video Link >  Recycle Now (Waste & Resource Action Programme):


PIC_Recycling Glass

Food Waste

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PIC_Recycling Garden Cartons

Throughout Scotland’s communities there are recycling banks for recycling different types of glass; clear, green and brown.  There are usually collection bins for old clothing.  Other facilities allow for collection of  batteries (car & household), fluorescent light tubes, fridges & freezers and other electrical equipment.

Video Link >  Recycle Now (Waste & Resource Action Programme):


PIC_Recycling Electrical

Alternative Routes

Organisations such as the ‘Freecycle’ network help facilitate reuse with an online itinerary of unwanted items, and a means of communication to arrange uplift by those in need.

There are also many local charity shops which take unwanted items and sell them on for a donation.  These mainly deal in furniture, clothing and books.  There is also a local bookstore which deals in second-hand as well as new books.

Anaerobic Digesters 

Linking the current recycling topic with our interests in energy, anaerobic digestion is a technology which spans both areas and is gaining in recognition as an economic means of converting organic waste product, food and garden waste, into energy with useful by-products.

It enlists micro-organisms to degrade organic material, to produce bio-gas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, which can be used directly as a fuel or refined to the quality of natural gas.  The residue from digestion can be used as a fertiliser or soil conditioner.

It is regarded as a renewable energy source and helps reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses by; replacing fossil fuels, reducing energy usage in waste treatment, reducing methane emissions in landfill, and replacing industrial fertilisers.

DIAG_Recycling Anarobic Digestion

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