Campaigners say that the new circular economy bill, which has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament today (14 June), could significantly reduce Scotland’s global climate impact by changing the way we use materials, but must be strengthened to do so.  

A circular economy is when materials are reused and recycled as much as possible before new resources are taken from nature, as opposed to our current linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model. It is a vital step in creating the transformation needed to reduce Scotland’s impact on the climate.

Scotland consumed 72 million tonnes of material in 2018, which is 19 tonnes of material per person on average. Experts have stated that it is possible to live sustainable, high-quality lives on a material footprint of eight tonnes of materials per person per year. 

84% of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from the products and services we buy. If the law is passed, ministers will be able to introduce targets to reduce our overall consumption, and the impact of the goods we do need to use.

The environmental and social damage caused overseas by demand for goods in Scotland is not addressed in Scotland’s existing climate targets, which focus on reducing domestic emissions, or Scotland’s wider environmental legislation. This means that around half of Scotland’s emissions, and wider environmental impacts of our consumption, are effectively “offshored” to other countries. This would change if consumption targets were brought in under the new circular economy law. 

This measure has significant public support, with 86% of respondents to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the circular economy bill calling for the introduction of consumption targets.

The circular economy law will also:

  • Establish a circular economy strategy
  • Ban the disposal of unsold consumer goods
  • Bring in new fines for households failing to recycle
  • Place charges on single-use items

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

“This new law has the potential to make a big difference to Scotland’s impact on the planet. The climate crisis is a global problem, so we need to take responsibility for the impact which happens outside of our borders due to our consumption of materials. It’s encouraging that the draft bill allows for consumption reduction targets to be set, and we urge the Scottish Parliament to go further and ensure that strong targets are brought in on the face of the bill. 

“Moving to a circular economy is about much more than just improving our recycling. 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 goods and services. With the right policies, circular economy measures will also create thousands of decent green jobs in Scotland. 

“The Scottish Parliament must be bold and decisive to create the change the threat of climate breakdown demands. We need to see MSPs from all parties working together to ensure the Circular Economy Bill is a strong as possible. We can reduce our climate emissions and tackle the global ecological crisis by extracting fewer resources; shifting to a circular economy by properly valuing materials, and reusing and recycling is central to this.”

On the introduction of a new fixed penalty regime for households, Ms Pratt continued:

“Measures to make products more sustainable and improved recycling systems available to everyone in Scotland must be prioritised over penalties for households. Responsibility lies first with producers to reduce the impact of the products on our shelves and make it possible for people to do the right thing.” 

Friends of the Earth Scotland briefing paper on the circular economy:


Scottish Government’s analysis of CE Bill consultation responses:


The Circular Gap Report for Scotland showed that Scotland is only 1% circular – the lowest of any country yet assessed by this measure:


Image credit: Rwanda Green Fund