Campaigners say that a new law to create a circular economy in Scotland has the potential to significantly reduce our climate and nature impacts. MSPs voted in favour of the bill at its first reading in the Scottish Parliament today (20 March). 

The law will tackle issues that are damaging to the environment like single-use products and the disposal of unsold goods, and should encourage better services for repairing and borrowing items to reduce the amount we need to buy new.

In the debate prior to the vote, MSPs across all parties welcomed the bill, but many called for changes to ensure it is effective in reducing consumption. There were calls for mandatory targets for sustainable and fair use of materials, limits to the harm in international supply chains, and for producers to take more responsibility for the damage created by the products they sell.

Campaigners say the current draft legislation doesn’t go far enough, and that changes such as mandatory targets to reduce consumption and making producers responsible for refurbishing, reusing or recycling their products should be added before it becomes law for it to be effective.

At the moment, Scotland has targets to reduce domestic climate emissions, but no plan for reducing the emissions from the goods we import. This would change if consumption reduction targets were introduced as part of the new circular economy law. 

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

“It’s a positive step that the circular economy bill was passed in Parliament yesterday. The circular economy has the potential to significantly reduce Scotland’s contribution to climate breakdown – if we get it right.

“Many MSPs made it clear in the debate that they would like the Circular Economy Law to be considerably more ambitious, and if it’s going to be effective then it needs to be. The new law must be a clear and comprehensive framework for a circular economy to ensure we move from a throw away society to a sustainable and fair future.” 

Dr Kat Jones, Director of APRS, said: 

“It’s too early to tell whether this legislation will make a real difference and start to shift Scotland away from a failing and costly linear economy model. It may be a complex problem, but one of the key solutions is simple, and widely used elsewhere – making companies responsible for the costs of collecting their products back in once they’ve reached the end of their useful life.

“This straightforward principle would reduce waste and litter, cut our unnecessary use of virgin materials, and save money for both the public and councils. It would also give producers a clear economic incentive to redesign their products so they last longer and are easier to collect back in for repair, reuse or recycling. The power to make this the default is devolved to Scotland, and we hope MSPs and Ministers will back it by the time this Bill finally goes through.”

Phoebe Cochrane of Scottish Environment LINK, said:

“The sheer amount of raw materials that go into making the products we use and consume, combined with the pollution from their manufacture, use and disposal; means that nature is paying the price for our linear economy. Globally consumption of natural resources has tripled since the 1970s and is set to further double by 2060.   

“As a nation, we have to reduce our overall consumption of raw materials – currently more than double what is considered sustainable – and it is time to make that a whole of Scotland mission. This new legislation could be the start of a systematic and comprehensive approach to transitioning to a circular economy, but it needs strengthening, more urgency and we need the Scottish Government to be bold and lead from the front.”

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer for the Marine Conservation Society said:

 “On the same day we publish our State of Beaches Report showing high levels of litter as a result of a take, make, and throw economy, we welcome this important next step by MSPs to move Scotland towards a circular economy. 

“Over 200,000 litter items were recorded by our volunteers on Scotland’s beaches in 2023, showing an alarming snapshot of how much waste is spoiling Scotland’s shores, impacting coastal communities and harming wildlife. We hope to see the Circular Economy Bill grow stronger and bolder as it moves its way through the Scottish Parliament and call on MSPs to use this fantastic opportunity to help reduce the amount of litter we produce in the first place.”