Published 3 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
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COVID-19 has delayed both the Scottish Climate Change Plan update and the Scottish Circular Economy Bill. While it’s unclear now whether the latter will ever see the light of day, stakeholders agree that the delay is a welcome opportunity to reassess and strengthen the Bill.
On the face of it, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be disrupting international
efforts to forge more circular economies. Fears over contamination have led to a
surge in demand for single-use plastic
and landfills are enjoying a renaissance as municipal recycling is scaled back,
is on the rise.
In the UK, the crisis has also dented progression of key policies. When it
was announced earlier this month that the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow was to
be postponed, it was almost inevitable that Scotland’s government would also
look to afford itself some breathing space.
First came the announcement that the Scottish Climate Change
Plan update, due by the end of
April, would be delayed. This was followed by news that the Scottish Circular
a key piece of legislation, would not be progressed.
Measures proposed under the Bill included push measures — such as giving
ministers the power to place charges on disposable items such as coffee cups —
along with pull measures, such as requiring public bodies to undertake more
circular procurement to stimulate demand for remanufactured and refurbished
It remains unclear now whether the Bill will ever see the light of day. Official
communication issued by ministers to key stakeholders with an interest in the
Bill stated: “We are grateful for all your input into the development of our
legislative proposals. This will still be available and ready to use, should
similar legislation be brought forward in the future.”
Given that Scotland is considered a leader in circular
especially when it comes to policy-making, it would be surprising if the Bill
wasn’t resurrected at some point in the future. What this blip does do, however,
is buy policy-makers some time — especially as many working in the environmental
sector think the Bill is lacking in ambition.
“We believe the draft Bill could have been stronger and this should be viewed as
a useful opportunity to go back to the drawing board,” Jacob Hayler,
executive director at the Environmental Services Association, told Sustainable
Brands™ in a recent interview. “Perversely, this could actually assist
Scotland’s ambitions to be a circular economy world leader, as it provides an
opportunity to strengthen key aspects of the Bill to make it truly ambitious and
Echoing this view, one source said that they’d rather the Bill “was delayed and
re-presented to Parliament with better-thought-out proposals.”
Hayler believes the Bill could do “much more” to help create resilient markets
for recyclates and support a strong domestic reprocessing and manufacturing
sector. He also points out that the proposals were silent on circular options
for treating residual waste.
“All levels of the waste hierarchy should be addressed — and that includes
prioritizing energy from waste for society’s non-recyclable, combustible waste;
which, in turn, provides a source of low-carbon energy to help power
remanufacturing activities,” Hayler maintains.
Whether ministers will look to address these issues remains to be seen. But
Adam Read, external affairs director at Suez UK, says he can’t see any
reason for the Bill not to be reenacted once the pandemic is under control.
“This isn’t a race to be first, but something that needs the right policy and
regulatory framework and equally the right level of stakeholder support and
buy-in. As such, let’s get it right to avoid any false dawns,” Read asserts.
For now, the Scottish government intends to deliver its circular economy
objectives through other means. These include the implementation of a deposit
return scheme, helping to develop a UK-wide extended producer responsibility
and delivering a food waste reduction action
Hayler says progress towards these objectives is not directly reliant on the
Bill’s passing. He points out that deposit return regulations were laid in the
Scottish Parliament for approval at the same time the Circular Economy Bill was
That said, he believes that the food waste reduction action plan — which aims to
reduce food waste by 33 percent by 2025 — could “well benefit” from enhanced
legislation on additional food waste measures as proposed in the Bill. This
would include encouraging businesses to report on their food waste.
Perhaps what’s happening in Scotland has wider lessons for other countries that
are also having to pause plans when it comes to re-engineering less wasteful
economies. What the pandemic has done is highlight the importance of domestic
self-sufficiency in producing critical materials, especially as global supply
chains get squeezed.
“A greater focus on recyclables recovered from the waste stream as a resilient
source of materials for our packaging and manufacturing sectors could be one of
the rare positives to emerge from the crisis,” Hayler says.
Read echoes this.
“We mustn’t let the health and safety and virus-limiting activities of this
crisis to get in the way of putting the circular economy agenda back on the
front foot,” he says. “What the lockdown period has shown us is that different
ways of working are not a threat. We must embrace the opportunity,
to continue with some of the best bits of our innovation and adaptation in
recent weeks; whilst creating the right functionality and technology platforms
to enable new more circular and resource-efficient means of operation.”
Published Apr 22, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Maxine Perella is an environmental journalist working in the field of corporate sustainability, circular economy and resource risk.