Scottish circular economy to go mainstream

Scottish circular economy
Iain Gulland

The Scottish circular economy has gone from theory to practice. With international recognition for our successes to date, it’s now time to go to the mainstream.

The goal of the circular economy is simple – making our precious resources last. But beyond the environmental imperative, there is the equally simple motive of economic opportunity. Scotland recently hosted the Circular Economy Hotspot Scotland, the third in a now annual series of international circular economy business showcases. From 30th October to 1st November, Zero Waste Scotland welcomed delegates from almost 20 different countries to Glasgow, profiling more than 50 Scottish circular economy organisations to an international audience, including policy makers, academics and businesses.

The event marked an important moment in Scotland’s journey towards a circular economy. In 2016, the Scottish Government published its first Scottish circular economy strategy, Making Things Last. We have come a long way in that period of time, investing more than £4m (~€4.5m) through the Circular Economy Investment Fund and giving business support to more than 100 businesses. In 2017, we picked up the award for Circular Economy Nations and Regions from the World Economic Forum at the high-profile Circulars Awards in 2017. Hosting the Hotspot was an acknowledgement of the progress that we have made.

But these achievements pale in significance in comparison to the full potential economic benefits. Putting a figure on those prospects is hard to do, but new analysis gets us a bit closer. Zero Waste Scotland commissioned reports into the economic opportunities of going circular in two of Scotland’s cities and regions – Tayside and Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire. We estimated the potential economic benefits of the Scottish circular economy to be up to £1bn in those two regions alone. Of course, these figures are indicative and there is a huge amount of work to be done if we want to turn that potential into reality.

The Circular Economy Hotspot

Scottish businesses are doing great work to make it happen. Zero Waste Scotland was recently in Japan and Indonesia to talk about what Scotland is doing and there is a huge appetite to learn from our experiences. But while we love getting the chance to speak to people about our successes, it’s hard to really bring circular businesses to life when you are standing in front of a PowerPoint in a conference hall. Hosting Circular Economy Hotspot Scotland in Glasgow gave us the chance to turn that dynamic on its head, by bringing a global audience right to Scottish businesses.

Among them was Highland Galvanizers, who hosted an international delegation to discuss their work to extend the safe working life of motorway crash barriers. It is a classic Scottish circular economy vision – reducing harmful emissions while delivering economic savings. The company has pioneered a way of re-coating barriers before rust sets in, so that the steel is preserved and can remain in use for at least another 25 more years. This process is currently being piloted in the south east of Scotland, in partnership with Transport Scotland. This could deliver savings of £4m and 8,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the region over the typical barrier lifetime.

Funding for a circular mode of operation

Of course, having examples of the Scottish circular economy in action is not enough. We need to make it second nature if its full economic potential is to be realised. That will require a truly transformational shift. We know we are not there yet; and working in collaboration across public and private sectors will be paramount to getting there. Further developing these networks and continuing to build our evidence base will be important, as will funding, and we will continue to provide financial support to help bring circular ideas to market. At the Hotspot, Scotland’s First Minister announced more than £700,000 of investment in circular economy businesses.

One of the businesses to receive funding was Total Homes, a triple-sector partnership undertaking house clearances for Housing Associations in Glasgow, who will be ensuring that household appliances and furniture will re-used. The project is expected to create 15 new jobs and deliver CO2 savings of 2,800 tonnes over three years. But aside from the economic and environmental benefits, it’s a project with a clear social purpose. By recovering and repairing these goods, they can create a source of affordable products, allowing families to kit out their homes for less. Zero Waste Scotland is committed to capturing more of these social benefits, which have all too often been overlooked. Improving how we measure the full benefits of the Scottish circular economy will be key to accelerating its development.

The Scottish circular economy requires across the board change

Ultimately, we want to get to the stage where the circular economy is sufficiently well-embedded that we can simply refer to it as the economy. That means convincing the private sector of the benefits to their bottom line. As the economic opportunities of the Scottish circular economy become clearer, we are seeing the private sector stepping up with funding support. There’s an increasing recognition that this is good business practice. Private backing for Project Beacon – the advanced plastics reprocessing facility being developed in Perthshire – far outstrips the funds put up by the public sector.

Project Beacon pulls together four different businesses to deliver their vision, just one example of collaboration in the Scottish circular economy. Of all the businesses that took part in the Hotspot, there weren’t many that were making it happen on their own. Eliminating waste requires partnership across supply chains, between businesses and across sectors. And Zero Waste Scotland isn’t supporting the Scottish circular economy on our own either. The event was made possible due to the support of the European Regional Development Fund which also part-funds some of the financial support we give to Scottish businesses.

The next Hotspot will be in Belgium; and Catalonia won the competition to hold the 2020 event. It’s clear that the circular economy is going to be high on the agenda for the European Union. From the Circular Economy Package to the European Commission’s plastic strategy, making things last is going to be a key part of any successful economic model in years to come. A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report suggests that the world is on track to double our current resource use by 2060. This would have huge environmental and social impacts and seriously undermine our chances of meeting the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

To meet our climate change promises and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it is now widely agreed by policy-makers in many nations that we need a Scottish circular economy. I am proud that Scotland, and our unique industries and businesses, are playing a leading role in showing the way forward.

Iain Gulland

Chief Executive

Zero Waste Scotland

Tweet @zerowastescot

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