MSPs have voted to approve Scotland’s new circular economy law. Parliament has taken over a year to scrutinise and review the new law, and the final debate took place yesterday with amendments voted on last night (25 June). 

Environmental campaigners have welcomed the new law, saying it is a “necessary shift away from our current throw away culture”. In Scotland, we consume more than twice the sustainable limit of materials every year. 

The circular economy law will include measures to change the way materials are used in Scotland, including:

  • A requirement for the Scottish Government to introduce new circular economy targets for Scotland which must consider the carbon footprint of goods, products and materials
  • A requirement for the Scottish Government to develop a circular economy strategy which reduces the consumption of materials, is fair to workers and communities affected by changes and aligns with Scotland’s climate objectives
  • A requirement to manage waste in Scotland rather than abroad where appropriate, from recycling plastic and textiles to preparing steel for reuse
  • A ban on the disposal of unsold goods
  • Charges on single use items, such as disposable beverage cups

Over the last year since the draft bill was introduced to parliament, it has been improved to include new measures because of campaigning from environmental groups and the public. Changes include a requirement for ministers to consider the carbon footprint of materials consumed in Scotland, measures to ensure people are properly supported as jobs shift to supporting a circular economy, and a recognition that Scotland must do more to reduce harm done to people in our supply chains internationally.

MSPs also debated new additions to the bill including plans for materials that are vital for the energy transition such as lithium for electric vehicles. This was not included in the bill as the Scottish Government said it would include these in the long awaited Energy Strategy.

Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: 

“This new law could be a turning point for Scotland, as we make the necessary shift away from our current throwaway culture. The way materials are used in Scotland is harmful to people, polluting the environment and contributing to climate breakdown. It also leaves people shelling out for poor quality products that break easily and can’t be repaired.

“People across Scotland have campaigned for the law to include measures that are vital to change the way materials are used in a fair and truly transformative way. The law has undoubtedly been made stronger through their efforts.

“This is a step towards a more circular economy but it is crucial that the Scottish Government acts with urgency to drive forward the measures in the law as soon as possible. It must also take swift action to rectify the glaring omissions from the law – we are now without recycling targets despite already being the UK’s worst recyclers, and we need a firm plan for transition minerals to avoid causing serious harm globally.”

Phoebe Cochrane from Scottish Environment LINK, said:

“The passing of this bill is an important stage in Scotland’s transition to an economy that is more circular – where we waste less and products and materials are used and reused for as long as possible.  By making our economy less wasteful we can reduce our overall consumption of raw materials, something that is essential in addressing our impacts on climate and nature.  But, the passing of this bill into law is only a stage, and the regulations, policy and delivery that follow are what will make a real difference.

“Scottish Environment LINK and our members started campaigning for a circular economy bill in 2019 and have been instrumental in strengthening it as it passed through parliament.  We now need Government to follow up with the actual measures to steer our economy to one that is more circular and less wasteful with a focus on reducing consumption of raw materials  –  only then will our economy be compatible with our commitments on nature and climate.”

Line Christensen, Partner Advocacy Officer, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF), said: 

“Building a circular economy can help drive down emissions at home, reduce our carbon footprint overseas and help tackle human and environmental abuses from the global economic system.

“This new law is a welcome first step in setting out a framework for how Scotland might help build a more just global economy that helps lift people out of poverty and secures progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

“However, it is vital that this new law is enacted with a truly global outlook. We cannot end up with a Circular Economy developed at the expense of the lives of people in the Global South.”