Waste statistics published today (17 October) show that household recycling levels in Scotland remain stagnant at 43%, with only a 0.3% increase from 2021 to 2022. The amount of waste generated by households has fallen by just 7% in 10 years. 

The Scottish Government’s commitment for 70% of all waste to be recycled by 2025 is likely to be missed. At the current rate of progress, household waste will take nearly 100 years to reach 70% recycling. In Wales, recycling rates increased from 45% in 2010-11 to over 65% in 2020-21. 

Environmental campaigners have said progress is happening too slowly, and that focus must be put on reducing waste as well as recycling it. 

In terms of cutting carbon, it is more important to reduce the total amount of waste than recycling. Not creating waste in the first place means less production and less waste that needs to be dealt with. However, household waste is also not being reduced at the rate that’s needed, having only fallen from 2.6 million tonnes in 2012 to 2.3 million tonnes in 2022.  

The figures also show that, for the first time, more household waste is being sent to incineration than landfill. Incinerators contribute to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases from the waste they burn. They also make it more difficult to ensure potentially recyclable material is not wasted instead. Research by Zero Waste Scotland has shown that 60% of residual waste from household bins of could have been recycled. 

The Scottish Government introduced the Circular Economy Bill to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year. It aims to create a circular economy in Scotland, where materials are properly valued and cycled around our economy for as long as possible by reducing consumption, and sharing and repairing, as well as recycling. 

Kim Pratt, Circular Economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: 

“The continued failure of the Scottish Government to improve recycling rates shows that real action is needed to tackle our waste problem. The Circular Economy Bill is an opportunity to change the way we use materials in Scotland, but at the moment it’s not strong enough to make a significant impact. It needs to include targets to reduce our consumption. The Scottish Government must be bold and decisive to create the change needed to meet the threat of climate breakdown.  

“Recycling is incredibly important for the planet, but moving to a circular economy means more than that. Strong consumption targets would mean policies to encourage producers to make products last for longer, ensure they are easy to repair, choose lower carbon materials, and to shift consumption patterns away from carbon intensive goods and services.”