Zero Waste Plan and the three R's

Reuse, Recycle, Recover

5 July 2010

Reuse, Recycle, Recover

On the 9 June 2010 Scotland became the first country to launch its plans to become a zero waste society. The Zero Waste Plan sets out how the Scottish Government propose to manage waste for the next 10 years. The mantra of the plan and indeed the Scottish Government, is to reuse and recycle resources in order to recover their value. The vision is for Scotland to be a country where waste is recognised as a valuable resource that can be accessed through recycling and reusing. All have welcomed the premise of a waste free society however the plan itself has received mixed reviews. Below is an analysis of the main points in the plan and how these will be delivered.

Treatment/Disposal targets

  • Recycling 70% of all waste in Scotland by 2025.
  • No more than 5% of waste to be sent to landfill by 2025.

One of the key points of the plan is that the Scottish Government will replace the 25% cap on municipal waste being treated in energy from waste plants. Instead regulatory measures will be introduced that restrict the inputs for both municipal and commercial and industrial to ensure that waste materials which could have been reused or recycled are not incinerated.

Landfill bans

  • The Government will introduce a ban to ensure no reusable or recyclable resources can be sent to landfill by 2020.

In order to support the introduction of such a landfill ban the Scottish Government will introduce regulations to drive separate collection and treatment of a range of resources to ensure that materials that can be reused or recycled are not directed to mixed waste treatment facilities.

Separation of waste and food waste

  • The Government will introduce regulations to ensure a greater level of separate collection and treatment of waste resources so that food waste and materials such as paper/card, metals, plastics, textiles and glass are collected separately.

The Government will focus on the separation of food waste initially and intends to make the separation of food waste a requirement.

The Government have highlighted that they will have regard to the likely timescales needed to introduce treatment facilities for anaerobic digestion in meeting the above requirements. These timescales will need to take into account not just the development of the facilities but the need to gain planning permission for such a facility.

Role of Land-Use Planning to deliver Zero Waste

It is clear that in order to achieve the targets set out in the plan there needs to be significant investment in infrastructure. There is a growing concern over Scotland’s ability to provide this infrastructure. Whilst the new plan has been accompanied by commitment from the waste sector to build new facilities, they themselves have acknowledged the fact that the plan's targets will only be met if planning barriers to waste infrastructure are overcome. 'The land-use planning system will support the delivery of a zero waste Scotland.'

The plan also says that the Government together with the local planning authorities and SEPA will work to ensure the land use planning system supports the Zero Waste Plan through the consolidated Scottish Planning Policy, the revision of waste planning guidance (PAN 63) which was published in 2002, and the provision of local waste infrastructure mapping and data.

However, the fundamental problem which the Zero Waste Plan fails is that waste facilities are by their nature deeply unpopular with local communities and therefore similarly unpopular with elected members of the planning committee. The Zero Waste Plan could have been far more specific about what local authorities required to do to deliver the vision of the Zero Waste Plan. Interestingly whilst Annex B of the plan sets out the roles of a variety of participants in the planning process (eg planning committees, developers and members of the public) it does not set out any role at all for Scottish Ministers. At a recent conference held the week before the Zero Waste Plan was published a poll conducted during a discussion on this very issue revealed that no-one from an audience of around 100 people felt the control for delivery of zero waste infrastructure should be left with the local authorities and the vast majority felt the Scottish Ministers required to take a more proactive role in the delivery of infrastructure through the planning process.

Annex B para 4.17 deals with the role of planning committees however only goes as far as to say that it is important for local authority councillors who are involved in taking planning conditions to understand the role the planning system plays in relation to local and strategic waste management needs. The plan fails to offer any direction to local authority councillors and is weak when it comes to delivery through planning.

To conclude, although the targets in the plan are designed to work together so that waste management in Scotland does not simply move from landfill to incineration failure to develop sufficient infrastructure will mean that the plan fails and so a change in attitude from local planning authorities is essential to the success of the plan. Whilst the Scottish Government claim that at the heart of the plan is a change of thinking whether the local councillors and planning authorities can learn the three Rs (reuse, recycle, recover) and make this part of their mindset is something that remains to be seen.

The Zero Waste Plan can be viewed by clicking here.