At Zero Waste Scotland, more and more of our work is centred around one challenge: counting and cutting carbon emissions. It’s a task given extra impetus by the announcement of a climate emergency. We cannot afford to pass up good opportunities to cut emissions.
One of the most immediate is Scotland’s deposit return scheme. As part of our support to the Scottish Government in designing the scheme, we looked at how much carbon could be cut by including different types of materials. We calculate that including glass bottles will cut carbon emissions by 1.2 million tonnes over the next 25 years. That’s the equivalent of about 33,000 return flights from Edinburgh to New York every year.
The big driver is more and better quality recycling. Only around 65 per cent of glass bottles are recycled. That’s actually one of the better performance rates for single-use drinks materials, but we can and must do better.
By giving people a 20p incentive, the scheme is expected to increase glass bottle recycling to 90 per cent. The 20p gives people that extra incentive and it’s been proven to change people’s recycling behaviour for the better. The other materials in the scheme are PET plastic – the type you’ll find your average bottle of fizzy juice in – and metal cans. Harnessing that incentive to increase recycling for glass delivers almost a third of the CO2 emissions savings. Given the urgency of the challenge we face, we can’t say no to that.
New polling by Zero Waste Scotland makes it clear that the inclusion of glass is popular with the public. That should come as no surprise. The imminent danger of climate change and the dangers that our waste poses to animals and our seas means the public expects to see serious action.
Just as we should take every chance to cut emissions, we should be taking every chance to prevent litter. Glass is not the biggest source of litter in Scotland but it’s of a particularly problematic kind – it’s dangerous, and unpleasant and we have a chance to take a big chunk out of it.
After plastic, glass was the second most common type of litter picked up by volunteers on Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Cleans in Scotland last year. The power of that 20p deposit will help remove much of that littered glass from our beaches, streets and green spaces.There’s also a clear economic case. Glass recycled through the scheme will provide a potential avenue for growth in Scotland’s burgeoning circular economy. When governments and consumers are demanding higher recycled content in drinks packaging, the scheme will generate 1.5 million tonnes of recycled glass for use by Scottish industry over the next 25 years.
Businesses have already taken huge strides on sustainability. Indeed, some drinks producers in the Scottish market already sell their drinks in countries like Germany and Estonia, where glass has been successfully integrated into deposit return schemes.
We want to channel business expertise in deciding how the scheme will be implemented. That’s why the Scottish Government has established an advisory group, putting industry in the driving seat in shaping decisions.
If Scotland is going to live within its environmental means, we have to maximise the benefits of every single intervention. Glass bottles are a core part of the deposit return scheme.
Jill Farrell is chief operating officer, Zero Waste Scotland.