Achieving a circular economy is one of five strategic outcomes for the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, so we are delighted that the Scottish Government has outlined plans to introduce a Circular Economy Bill in the 2019/20 Programme for Government.

Circular Economy – what is it?

A “circular economy” seeks to move away from a linear “take, make, dispose” model of economic consumption, and move instead towards one of “reduce, reuse, recycle”. This more regenerative economic model seeks to cycle resources back into supply chains, and ultimately eliminate waste altogether.

Circular Economy – why is it important?

There is an increasing consensus that we must change our economic models to both decarbonise, and also to help better conserve the world’s natural resources. A more circular economy offers opportunities to do both.

The Scottish Government’s targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 will require all sectors of society to rethink their practices to help decarbonise the economy, and business will have a key role to play.

It is also important to slow down our depletion of natural resources, so that our stock of natural capital, already significantly overdrawn, is given opportunity to replenish. In 2019, the Global Footprint Network found global demand for natural resources outstripped what the earth can support and regenerate by 1.75 times. This was the highest ever total, and is projected to rise further in the future.

Implementing a more circular economy offers an opportunity to help meet these challenges, and in a way that can also have benefits for business bottom lines.

What is the bill likely to contain?

In terms of measures already confirmed in the bill, there will be legislation to apply a charge to single-use drinks cups. An estimated 200 million single-use disposable drink cups are used in Scotland every year, a total likely to rise further without effective legislation.

There will also be a consultation on raising the minimum amount for the single-use carrier bag charge from five pence to 10 pence, in line with the standards set out in the European Union’s Single Use Plastic Directive. Both of these measures complement a deposit return scheme (DRS), already set to be implemented in 2021.

Other areas of likely focus for the bill…

  • Introduction of mandatory reporting of materials such as textiles deemed surplus, and encouraging its reuse.
  • More comprehensive approach to food waste, integrated at production, retail and consumer levels. 
  • ​The Household Recycling Charter may be strengthened to move from voluntary to mandatory requirements to boost recycling.
  • ​Procurement strategies of public bodies required to outline how they will meet climate change and circular economy obligations; increasing demand for reused and remanufactured goods

Opportunities for business?

Reducing waste has long been a mantra for businesses, and at its most simple, re-thinking what is constituted as “waste” along supply chains can instead provide raw materials, and a route to greater efficiencies and reduced costs. That this can also boost our stock of natural capital by using less finite natural resources is surely a "win-win" worth pursuing.

The Scottish Forum on Natural Capital will monitor the progress of the Circular Economy Bill as it passes through Parliament. We will argue for an ambitious Bill that eliminates waste, saves natural resources, but also remembers the bottom line for business. This means a bill that thinks about economic opportunities rather than adding simply unnecessary burdens.

For Scottish businesses interested in learning more about how they can apply circular economy principles to their business models, there are a number of guides available.

– Zero Waste Scotland have a Circular Economy Business Support Service 

– The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) released a CEO Guide to the Circular Economy

Read more about the proposed Scottish Government legislation and consultation here