Plastic waste? We’ve got bigger fish to fry
Whilst we advocate waste reduction wherever possible, what this discussion has really told us is that our recycling system in Scotland is broken.

Since Blue Planet 2 came onto our screens over 6 months ago, everyone has been talking about plastics and we are seeing no sign of this attention going away. Mass public engagement around the topic of waste is, of course, a good thing and we hope this brings many positive changes in our industry. Industry experts have of course been weighing in from every direction on the topic with blogs and opinion pieces. At Changeworks Recycling we do believe that most of the commentary on the issue has missed the mark. Whilst we advocate waste reduction wherever possible, what this discussion has really told us is that our recycling system in Scotland is broken. While all positive news stories are welcome, we believe that Scotland needs to get realistic about reaching its recycling targets otherwise our aspirations of being a high quality recycling nation will be over before they ever really started.

Why so negative?

Well if you delve into the (questionable) data on Scotland’s recycling figures you can see that they are massively skewed by the high recycling rates from the heavy-waste-producing construction sector. Which hides the fact that both the household sector and commercial sectors are badly lagging behind. Whilst efforts are being made to improve the quantity and quality of household recycling, the commercial sector has been forgotten since the introduction of the Waste (Scotland) Regulations in 2014. 

Were these regulations a success? We would certainly argue they were not as the quality of recycling we see every single day in Edinburgh & Glasgow businesses is very poor and whilst this will be counted as recycling in the statistics, there is no way a lot of it will actually get recycled in the Scotland, UK or even abroad.

Waste data

On the subject of waste data, we think it’s fair to say we have a long way to go. Counting recycling at the point of collection is misleading. This is due to the poor quality recycling being collected across Scotland, a lot of this will never get recycled, therefore should not be included in our recycling statistics. Counting at the point of collection leads us to fantasy recycling, not real recycling. And living in a fantasy world isn’t good for anyone!

Better, more accurate information on what happens to recycling will not only give us a better baseline to work from it will also undoubtedly encourage more recycling due to increased public confidence in recycling. Why is this data so hard to come by? A lot of this is because of the quality and contamination of recycling in Scotland. This quality issue comes from DMR (Dry Mixed Recycling) the go-to method of collection in our nation. At Changeworks Recycling we refer to DMR as Doesn’t Mean Recycled as it facilitates a throwaway culture which doesn’t change consumer behaviour or treat waste as a resource.

Future developments

This all sounds a bit negative, but we are just being realistic. It is only because of our passion for high quality recycling that we want to see positive changes happen in Scotland. It can get better though! We have deposit return systems coming in which will help embed high quality recycling with the Scottish public. But to really make Scotland a high quality recycling nation we will need to go much further than deposit return; this must include revisiting business recycling. 

We need to ensure enforcement of existing legislation bringing increased segregation which will bring real recycling back to Scotland and create a truly circular economy with sustainable local reprocessing of materials. Why bring all this up? Well, we are watching everyone, including those in power continually talking about the issues of plastics. Plastic is a relatively small issue in the great scheme of things. And whilst we welcome the attention on waste & recycling, we need to ensure that we focus on those areas above where change is drastically needed to make Scotland a leader on this agenda.