It was first promised in 2019 but was then put on hold because of the pandemic. It is now firmly back on the agenda, with the results of a public consultation published recently and a draft Bill expected in the Scottish Parliament next year.
The legislation could transform the way we use materials, what we do with waste and even what we consider to be waste. We currently have had a linear economy where we dig up raw materials, including the oil and gas that make up the vast majority of the plastics we use, use loads of energy to turn them into products, and then chuck them in a landfill or burn them in an incinerator when we’ve finished with them.
Instead of this hugely wasteful way of using materials, we need to move to a circular economy. This means getting much more use out of every tonne of material that we extract from the natural world, by designing things better and to last longer, repairing things when they break, re-using items and being super efficient at recycling everything we possibly can, keeping materials circulating around the economy for as long as possible before they become waste.
Scotland won much praise for its 2016 circular economy strategy but our collective failure to do much about it has meant a ban on landfilling most domestic waste has had to be postponed, our recycling rates are actually going down, and companies and councils are rushing to incineration as an easy solution.
The Circular Economy Bill is the way to set Scotland on track to a much more efficient use of resources. It can also make a vital contribution to reducing our climate change impact because more than 80 per cent of our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions comes not from what we do here at home but from the goods and services we buy from outside Scotland.
Campaigners at Friends of the Earth Scotland and Scottish Environment Link want to set up a system for action on the circular economy like the one we have for climate change. This would mean ambitious targets, a Circular Economy Strategy revised every five years or so, a duty for ministers to report to parliament on progress every year and an independent scientific advisory group to keep the government focused. This system has worked well at holding the government to account on climate change and could do the same for the transition from a linear to circular economy.
The analysis of responses to the official consultation found that 86 per cent of the 1,300 people and organisations that responded strongly supported tough targets in the new Bill. Even more supported the call for a duty in law to publish strategies. The majority also supported the creation of a new expert independent body to advise the government on circular economy action and track the delivery of plans, just as the Climate Change Committee does on climate change.
Public ambition is clearly high, which means the Scottish Government can also be ambitious in drafting this vital Bill.
Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant