Scotland lagging behind on recycling

August 7, 2007 at 6:38 am

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), has recently published figures on the country’s household and business waste in 2005/06. The data shows that the volume of waste in Scotland has risen substantially – by 10% compared with the previous year. This surge in waste production is linked to a recent building boom. Construction material accounts for the lion’s share of the 22.2 million tonnes of waste, with building and demolition contributing 10.6 million tonnes to the total, compared with only 7.3 million tonnes in the previous year.

Household waste amounted to 2.89 million tonnes, of which 24.4% was recycled or composted. Given that the Scottish Executive’s recycling target was 25% by the end of 2006, this seems a sign of healthy progress. However, of the 893,000 tonnes of waste collected by local authorities which was destined for recycling or composting, almost a third (32.2%) was composted, not recycled. According to the report, it is likely that householders are making greater use of local authority composting and garden waste collection services, whereas previously this organic matter would have been composted at home. So the increased volume of waste being recycled or composted is due at least in part to an uptake of composting facilities rather than a greater commitment to recycling.

On average, a Scottish household threw away 1,197kg of rubbish in 2005/2006, up 26kg from 2004/2005. Over 72% of this waste ended up in landfill sites, and 207kg per household was recycled. This equates, on average, to a recycling rate of 17.2%, compared with an average across England of 27%. A breakdown of recycling in the English regions, published by Defra, shows 4 English regions are recycling a third of their household waste. The South West, with a rate of 33%, recycles almost twice as much as Scotland.

But the outlook isn’t entirely bleak for the UK’s northernmost country. The deleterious effect of Scotland’s construction industry on their waste profile is matched by a positive attitude towards recycling at a broader level. Indeed, a country-wide campaign known as Waste Aware Scotland, is helping to educate the public about recycling by introducing the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and launching more than 80 local Waste Aware programmes. Moreover, the DEPA report does show that the increase in materials collected for recycling corresponds to a decrease in household waste, suggesting that the message is slowly getting through.

However, Bill Proctor, who works at SEPA’s Environmental Data Unit, admits there is still work to be done: “Although we are seeing a significant drop in the amount of waste being sent to landfill, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure…targets are met. Much of the progress to date is being achieved through the implementation and delivery of Scotland’s National Waste Plan”. Therefore, while Scotland’s attitude to education on recycling shows promise, there is still much work to be done in the future.

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