The most successful countries in the 21st century will be resource efficient, circular economies which do not produce significant quantities of waste. Products, materials and resources will be used for as long as possible and maximum value will be derived from them. 


Key messages

Our current economic model where we make, consume and dispose of products and materials is unsustainable.

The aim of the ‘circular economy’ is to eliminate waste through better product and service design. This can be done by using materials that are easier to recycle, making it easier to upgrade and re-use products over a longer lifetime, and by changing how those products are recovered at the end of their useful life.

The materials and resources in waste provide an opportunity to displace virgin materials and provide economic and environmental opportunities. Where waste is produced it should be managed in line with the waste hierarchy.

Where waste is produced it should be managed in line with the waste hierarchy.

This model promotes re-use and recycling over energy recovery and landfill. Good progress has been made but more work is needed.

The management of waste still has negative effects on the environment in Scotland, which can affect community well-being.

Scotland has set a target of recycling 70% of all waste by 2025. See data section below to find out how much waste Scotland recycles.

Scotland landfills less than a third of what we did in the mid 1990s.

Scotland has reduced the carbon impact of waste management by 17% in the two years between 2011 and 2013 but moving to a truly circular economy could save around 11 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per annum by 2050.

Scotland's Carbon Metric - Our current economic model where we make - consume - dispose is unsustainable - View the full infographic at Zero Waste Scotland

There is a growing body of evidence on the economic opportunity from a more circular economy. Early analysis has suggested that action across 8 manufacturing sub-sectors could result in annual cost savings of £0.8-1.5 billion in Scotland.

Every year SEPA investigates around 2,500 waste incidents notified to them by the public.



How much waste do we produce?

 View the full data analysis application for further detail

How is waste managed

Waste recycled

 View the full data analysis application for further detail

Waste sent for energy recovery, incineration and landfill

 View the full data analysis application for further detail

Waste managed against targets

 View the full data analysis application for further detail


What are we doing?

Making Things Last” is Scotland’s strategy for a circular economy - where products and materials are kept in high value use for as long as possible. It builds on Scotland’s progress in the zero waste and resource efficiency agendas. A more circular economy will benefit:

  • the environment – cutting waste and carbon emissions and reducing reliance on scarce resources;
  • the economy – improving productivity, opening up new markets and improving resilience; and
  • communities – more, lower cost options to access the goods we need with opportunities for social enterprise.

Realising these benefits will mean rethinking our approach to how goods are supplied, how they are used, and what happens at the end of products‟ lifetimes.

One planet prosperity – A waste to resources framework - outlines how SEPA intends to drive down waste production and keep valuable materials circulating for as long as possible, whilst preventing and tackling the harms associated with waste management and waste crime. These guiding principles form the basis of the framework and define SEPA’s approach to waste and resource management across all sectors of the economy.


Policy and legislation


EU approach to waste - The objectives and targets set in European legislation have been key drivers to improve waste management, stimulate innovation in recycling, limit the use of landfilling, and create incentives to change consumer behaviour.


Making things last – A circular economy strategy for Scotland - Making things last sets out priorities for moving towards a more circular economy – where products and materials are kept in high value use for as long as possible. It builds on Scotland’s progress on zero waste and resource efficiency.

Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 - deals with the practical implementation of provisions such as the separate collection of recyclable materials and processing and management of waste and the promotion of 'high quality' recycling:

  • all waste to take reasonable steps to promote high quality recycling;
  • businesses to take reasonable steps to present dry recyclables (metals, plastics, paper, card and glass) (2014) and food waste for collection (2014 and 2016 for businesses producing between 5kg and 50kg of food waste);
  • local authorities to provide householders with a collection service for dry recyclables (2014) and food waste (2016);
  • a ban on materials collected separately for recycling going to landfill or incineration (2014);
  • a ban on biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill, thus helping to substantially reduce harmful emissions of methane (2021).

Waste hierarchy – statutory guidance - It is a duty of erveryone (with the exception of householders) who produces, keeps or manages controlled waste to take all reasonable measures to apply the waste hierarchy and manage waste in a manner which promotes high quality recycling. This document provides guidance on the discharge of these duties with easy to use look up tables for a range of common waste types.

Duty of care – A code of practice - Waste must be managed correctly by storing it properly, only transferring it to the appropriate persons and ensuring that when it is transferred it is sufficiently well described to enable its safe recovery or disposal without harming the environment. The duties apply to anyone who produces, keeps, imports or manages controlled waste in Scotland. The code or practice provides advice on the design and operation of waste management systems with respect to the segregation of key waste streams at source and promoting the 'high quality' recycling outcomes.

Household waste recycling charter - The charter and associated code of practice sets out the basis for a consistent approach to the provision of household recycling services by local authorities in Scotland. The charter aims to;

  • Improve our household waste and recycling services to maximise the capture of, and improve the quality of, resources from the waste stream, recognising the variations in household types and geography to endeavour that our services meet the needs of all our citizens.
  • Encourage citizens to participate in our recycling and reuse services to ensure that they are fully utilised.
  • Operate services so that staff are safe, competent and treated fairly with the skills required to deliver effective and efficient resource management on behalf of our communities.

Scottish planning policy - Planning plays a vital role in supporting the provision of facilities and infrastructure

for future business development, investment and employment. This policy sets out a number of principles for the planning system to support the development of a zero waste society and a circular economy.

Scottish Landfill Tax  - Anyone disposing of waste at a landfill site in Scotland is due to pay Scottish Landfill Tax. This tax aims to encourage waste producers to produce less and recover more value from it. The Scottish Landfill Communities Fund (SLCF) is a tax credit scheme, linked to Scottish Landfill Tax, that encourages contributions to community and environmental projects.

SEPA waste regulations – providing guidance to make complying with regulation as clear and straightforward as possible for operators and all those involved in waste management. Further information is provided about how waste management is regulated and how SEPA implements regulations.

NetRegs provides a full list of Scottish waste legislation that may affect businesses in Scotland.

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Pages we suggest

Useful contacts

Enterprise agencies – partners in circular economy, and Scotland’s manufacturing action plan

Local Authorities - The primary waste function undertaken by Scotland's local authorities is the collection and disposal of household and some commercial waste. Refer to your local authority's website for further guidance as to the services they provide

Resource Efficient Scotland - Helps organisations across Scotland save money by using resources more efficiently. Managed by Zero Waste Scotland, it provides free, specialist advice and on-site support to help decision makers in business, public and third-sector organisations cut their energy, water and raw material costs.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) - Scotland's environmental regulator, tasked with protecting and improving the environment and human health by regulating activities that can cause pollution and by monitoring Scotland's air, land and water. SEPA has statutory responsibilities around the monitoring and regulation of waste

The Scottish Government - Has responsibility for national waste policy, and launched Scotland's first Zero Waste Plan on the 9th June 2010. Legislation and programmes to support the delivery of the Plan

The Scottish Futures Trust - An independent company established by the Scottish Government to deliver value for money across Scotland's waste infrastructure. Scottish Futures Trust provides support local authorities in identifying their infrastructure requirements and to support efficiency in the delivery of new waste treatment facilities

Zero Waste Scotland - Provides a one stop shop for support services to local authorities, businesses, the third sector and communities across Scotland, enabling all concerned to take the steps necessary towards becoming a Zero Waste Society