New statistics reveal that Scotland recycled less and sent more waste to incineration in 2021 than 2018. SEPA did not publish complete datasets for 2019 or 2020 because of the cyber-attack on the organisation. 

The total amount of waste fell, probably in response to the fall in economic activity during the pandemic. 

Waste statistics published today (28 March) by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) show that in 2021: 

  • The total amount of waste generated in Scotland was 9.6 million tonnes; 
  • 56% of this waste was recycled, a fall from 2018 when 60% of waste recycled; 
  • This reduction means almost 1.5 million tonnes less of Scottish waste was recycled; 
  • Incineration rose 14.6% compared to 2019 and the amount of waste burned tripled over 10 years 
  • The amount of waste sent to landfill also increased by 0.4% from 2019. 

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

“This is the first time in three years that we have seen a snapshot of Scotland’s waste trends and the picture is extremely concerning. 

“A fall in economic activity in the pandemic may have led to a short term drop in the amount of waste Scotland produces but this is likely to rise again once activity resumes. 

“Despite the pandemic reducing overall waste levels, the amount of waste burned continues to rise and has tripled in just ten years. The moratorium on new incineration was a vital first step to reverse this trend but these statistics show it is not enough and must now be backed up with a ban on burning plastics and a phase out plan for existing incinerators. However, rather than closing incinerators, projects which already had planning permission are allowed to start operating and are receiving funding. This needs to stop now. 

“Scotland must transform the way it uses materials and waste less to reduce our impact on the planet. It’s vital more is done to prevent valuable reusable or recyclable materials burning in incinerators or ending up in landfill. Ensuring waste is not created in the first place is the best way to reduce its environmental impacts, and if waste is created, we must recycle as much of it as possible.” 

Scottish Government moratorium on incineration

The Scottish Government published the second and final part of its independent review on incineration in February 2023. The review recommended that the Scottish Government should introduce a ban on burning plastics by 2030. The Scottish Government has not yet responded to these recommendations. 

The NESS incinerator in Aberdeen was given Scottish Government funding in November 2022, six months after the first independent review on incineration was published. Despite construction problems and local communities voicing concern, the NESS incinerator begun burning waste in 2023. In March 2023, it was revealed that, rather than treating the toxic bottom ash produced by the incinerator locally as planned, the operators are sending it over 100 miles to Fife.

Notes to Editors

SEPA waste data: https://www.sepa.org.uk/environment/waste/waste-data/waste-data-reporting/waste-data-for-scotland/

Scottish Government Independent Incineration Review, Part 2, February 2023

Part of the Scottish Government Just Transition Grant for the North East and Moray was given to the new NESS incinerator in November 2022:

NESS incinerator sends waste to Fife:

Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 73 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.