SCOTLAND - The concept that everything we use and throw away is a resource with value is part of the principals of the Circular Economy that Japan and China endorse… oh, and Scotland. Stuart Hoggard examines the issue in this first part of his analysis of ‘Zero Waste Scotland’.
This summer, while the UK’s parliamentary parties flipped, flopped and postured over whether local authorities should be compelled to reintroduce weekly dustbin collections, the devolved Scottish Assembly in Edinburgh was quietly pressing ahead with its alternative strategy for a Zero Waste society for Scotland.
The debate about the frequency of household garbage collections, and who should incur the estimated additional yearly cost of £100 million ($157m), provided the national media with plenty of juicy quotes, such as the comments of Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government: “It’s a basic right for every English man and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in the bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected.”
The zero sum gain
In these hard fiscal times, Scotland is in the process of implementing a revolutionary national, government-backed programme, Zero Waste Scotland, funded by an additional £25m ($39m) budget allocation for 2011/12.
Created to take the idea of waste minimisation and convert it into action on a large scale, the Zero Waste programme is intended to fundamentally change the way the Scots view their garbage. No longer is the soggy chicken tikka masala’s journey to end in landfill. It is to be accorded a new respect and recognised as a heroic building block in a new recycling economy.
At the heart of Scotland’s proposed waste policy lies fundamentalist Circular Economic theory. The concept is nothing new - it has been around for more than 20 years.
In 2002 it entered the Japanese statute books as the Sound Material Cycle Law and in China it is more practically known as the Circular Economy Law (2008).
Though they differ slightly from each other in their implementation (as does the Scottish interpretation), the core principals at work in Asia are identical: The Circular Economy regards the entire national economic system as a circular journey, in which the waste from one process becomes the feedstock for another – rather than the more conventional process of material inputs, consumption and disposal.
For example, in an industrial estate, waste slag from a steel mill can become the feedstock for a brick factory and the waste from the brick works becomes back-fill for roads. Excess heat and energy can be captured to generate steam, which are harnessed to produce electricity for industry or domestic use.
Organic waste from restaurants and households can be industrially composted and turned into fertiliser, domestic sewage is processed and also becomes fertiliser, while methane gas from both processes can be captured and used as fuel for domestic heat and light.
Says Richard Lochhead, member of the Scottish Parliament and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, on the Zero Waste Scotland Delivery Plan 2011-15: “We need to drive change recognising that everything we use and throw away is a resource that has a value we should try to preserve, capture, and use again wherever possible – helping to deliver on green jobs, tackling climate change and generating green energy.”
As the Japanese discovered back in 1995, when its Circular Economy legislation was in the planning stages, to achieve this first requires the terminology of modern urban garbage disposal to be reconsidered: ‘Waste’ is redefined as ‘something that cannot be sold to someone else’; ‘recycled’ reclaims its original meaning as ‘something that has undergone a transformation to become something else’ – not the current situation in several European countries where ‘recycled’ packaging waste is stacked on the dockside waiting to be shipped to China.
Lochhead was singing the classic circular economy refrain in the Delivery Plan: “We will need to rewire many of our individual and collective thought processes, so that we see there is no such thing as waste, there are only resources."
To that end, the Zero Waste Scotland organisation was launched in 2010 as the enabler of change. Responsible for bringing together partners from all sectors of the economy, in the 12 months since its introduction the Scottish government points to significant success.
Local authorities in Scotland are now recycling on average 38% of municipal waste. This means that Scotland has met EU landfill diversion targets more than 18 months earlier than required.
Ten Local Authorities are now providing separate food waste collections and five Anaerobic Digestion sites are operational with capacity to process almost 200,000 tonnes of food waste annually into clean energy and valuable fertiliser.
The Zero Waste Scotland Delivery Plan sets goals and targets to be achieved by 2015: Design waste out of the system, make more efficient use of resources and maximise the economic benefit from unavoidable waste by 2015 (see sidebar).
A Market Development programme is to focus on priority materials (initially plastics and organics) as the Scots believe they have the potential to develop large scale reprocessing and market opportunities within the country.
An initial investment of £4m ($6.2m) will support the roll-out of food waste collections from homes and businesses.
A research and development programme with investment in infrastructure is to stimulate demand from end markets for the use of recycled materials returning to the supply chain, including agriculture for organic materials, and in the food and drinks and electronics sectors for recycled plastics.
Surprisingly, in this age of austerity, a large-scale capital grant programme will lead to the commissioning of a closed loop plastics recycling facility in Scotland, and stimulating demand for recycled plastics in manufacturing.
New regulatory framework
To achieve these lofty targets requires revision of existing legislation under the umbrella of Zero Waste (Scotland) Regulations to be passed before the end of 2011. A long list regulations will be amended or replaced.
|Zero Waste Scotland Delivery Plan targets (by 2015):|
By law, waste producers (other than householders) will have to save key recyclable materials separately. This reform will drive a step change in the way trade waste management operates in Scotland for both producers and the waste industry.
Individual householders will be affected in a very limited way - waste from households is almost always collected by, or on behalf of, local authorities, and a different regulatory mechanism is proposed to require Scottish waste collection authorities to take all technically, environmentally and economically practicable measures to provide separate collection services to households for the listed recyclable materials.Earlier waste strategies focused mainly on municipal waste management, the driver being the EU Landfill Directive requirements to divert biodegradable municipal waste out of landfill.
The new Plan takes an all-waste approach, applying the same treatment standards and regulatory requirements for all materials – regardless of whether it is household, municipal or commercial and industrial.
The Scots objective restricts what is permitted in landfill - effectively banning materials with the potential to be re-used, recycled or used to produce energy.
Essential to the plan is the segregation and separate collection of the key recyclable materials at source.
Materials specifically named in the legislation are paper and card, glass, metals and plastics. Food waste is also targeted due to the environmental benefits of managing bio-waste separately.
This will provide additional support for the recycling industry by helping to secure supplies of high-value materials. Once recyclable materials have been segregated, regulations stipulate that they must be managed without compromising their quality, and mixing them will be banned.
However, not all recyclable waste can be segregated at source, in some cases it will end up in the unsorted waste stream. Changes to the environmental Permit issued to EfW plants will ensure waste materials which could have been reused or recycled is not incinerated, and feedstock will be restricted to residual waste and other suitable single stream wastes such as contaminated wood.
For such a sweeping change in the status quo to occur in Scotland, some method of funding will have to be introduced, so Extended Producer Responsibility looms large on the agenda.
A Policy Evaluation Report, released by the Scottish Government in May 2011, takes the position that the plan is to “introduce policy levers that systematically drive the transition to a zero waste society across all resource streams.
“This gives cause to look again at producer responsibility policies to identify measures that may be undertaken to help achieve the goals within the Plan.”
However, there is already a system in place across the UK to deal with packaging, the Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN). Unique in the EU it is a trading system whereby obligated producers buy ‘certificates’ from recyclers on the open market.
According to Duncan Simpson of Valpack, “The system has delivered targets in the most cost-effective way for business and Government at a UK level. A ‘Scottish specific’ solution could mean more costs and more administrative burden for producers to report in the first instance as they would require to attempt to break data out at a regional devolved administration level rather than UK level.”
It is a point conceded by the Scottish report.
“It might also be argued that the UK approach has been based around intentions to ‘just comply’ with relevant (EU) legislation. If Scotland were to pursue alternative and separate producer responsibility schemes, then - if other parts of the UK do not follow suit - there is certain to be implications for business, consumers, local authorities, regulators, the environment itself and other stakeholders alike.”
While waste management is a local level, doorstep responsibility administered in Scotland by the Scottish Assembly, PRN is very much a national UK law – and this is where waste, specifically the left-over packaging from that chicken tikka masala steps up to the plate as the local hero in the Scottish National Party’s agenda for more than just waste, but political separation.
See Part 2 of PackWebasia.com's analaysis of 'Zero Waste Scotland' HERE
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