Embracing a Circular Economy

One of our best tools in the fight against the climate crisis

Our planet is facing a climate emergency, and in Scotland we know that one of our best tools in the fight against the climate crisis is embracing a circular economy.

Around four-fifths of our carbon footprint comes from the products and materials we manufacture, produce, consume, and too often throw away after a single use.

In our current ‘linear’ production system, products are made, used, and disposed of. In a circular system, products would be designed more responsibly with their whole life cycle in mind – reusing, repairing, upgrading, and remanufacturing products to create new from old again and again.

A circular economy reduces the demand for raw materials, benefiting the environment and creating opportunities for businesses to get maximum value from their resources. This, in turn, keeps costs down and generates new skills, jobs and economic benefits for local communities.

This year, Zero Waste Scotland commissioned Scotland’s first ever Circularity Gap Report, via Circle Economy, to serve as an all-important benchmark in measuring our country’s circularity.

The research shows our current production and consumption model results in just 1.3% of valuable resources cycling back into the economy after use. This means we have a huge opportunity to address the impact of 98% of Scotland’s resources coming from virgin sources. By embracing circularity, we can reduce carbon emissions, prevent the over extraction of our precious natural resources, and begin to reverse the effects of biodiversity loss.

By implementing a closed-loop economic system and circular economy principles, we can reduce carbon emissions by up to 44% in Scotland, mitigating climate change and creating new business opportunities for the future.

Scotland is already globally regarded for our innovative, and circular, businesses. From IndiNature in Jedburgh, whose circular business model transforms hemp stock crops into eco-friendly and cost-effective home construction blocks known as ‘hempcrete’, to Norkram in Peterhead, which has been pioneering the circular economy across Scotland’s oil and gas industry for three decades, producing plastic thread protectors to cover gas drilling pipes from recycled plastic materials saved from landfill.

And this is where Zero Waste Scotland, as the circular economy experts, come in. Our goal is to lead Scotland to use resources more sustainably by motivating both businesses and individuals to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy.

Through the Circular Economy Business Support Service (CEBS), Zero Waste Scotland has helped more than 200 companies make improvements by introducing circular strategies such as circular design, resource recovery, and waste management – all critical to the circular economy.

And via our Circular Economy Investment Fund (CEIF), we invested around £12 million in more than 60 innovative circular Scottish enterprises. That investment has created more than 70 jobs and reduced carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 40,000 cars off the road for a year. You can read more about this in our recently released report on Building a Circular Ecosystem for Scottish Businesses.

The recently laid Circular Economy Bill is a key milestone in Scotland’s efforts to embrace circularity. The Bill, although not a single solution to close the circularity gap, represents a step in the right direction offering a pivotal guiding framework for a more sustainable, regenerative, and restorative economic system.

It will give Scottish Ministers powers to set local recycling targets, measure progress in reducing waste and Scotland’s carbon footprint, ban the disposal of unsold consumer goods through landfill, and place charges on single-use items like coffee cups.

Zero Waste Scotland believes the Bill is an opportunity for more than just environmental change and should also be seen as a foundation for net-zero economic approaches. Being able to monitor progress through a well-researched and evidence-based framework can help establish future, targeted, circular economy goals that will stimulate markets, guide police, and actively engage people across Scotland.

However, for the Bill to be truly successful, it must work for and be embraced by the whole of Scotland, from busy cities and towns to our more rural landscapes from the south of Scotland to the highlands and islands.

In summary, if we are going to succeed in our fight against the climate crisis, we need to manage our country’s resources and keep materials in circulation for as long as we can. For a circular economy to work in Scotland, we all need to play our part – both businesses and citizens alike. Visit the Zero Waste Scotland website to find out about the small changes you can make to start your own journey to net zero, from reducing food waste to getting the most use out of everyday items.

Zero Waste Scotland


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