Scottish councils missing out on millions as recycling wasted

Scotland's recycling is sent as far afield as China.
Scotland's recycling is sent as far afield as China.
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Scots throw out an incredible £41m worth of recycling a year with local authorities only recouping a fraction of the value of the waste.

Scots throw out an incredible £41 million worth of recycling a year, with local authorities only recouping a fraction of the value of the waste.

Major work is now ongoing to build a recycling system that not only draws maximum value from the material but creates new jobs and businesses by reprocessing the waste in this country.

Much of Scotland’s recycling goes to England, Europe and as far afield as China to be turned into new materials.

As a result, local authorities miss out on revenue with wider economic benefits, such as employment, also lost to other countries.

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Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said that local authorities only accrued around 28 per cent of the value of recycling put out for collection by Scottish households and businesses.

Mr Gulland said: “There is a value in this material and what we need to look at is how all councils and the public purse retrieves as much of that value as possible.

“As well as the environmental drivers, there is a huge economic imperative to do more recycling.

“In Scotland, we need to look at how we can extract more value from recycling and create a more consistent supply of material so that we can look at opportunities for reprocessing in Scotland.

“The bulk of recycling is exported from Scotland, mostly down south, some into mainland Europe and also further afield.

“As well as the said value there is also a huge opportunity for employment in Scotland if we could reprocess it here.”

Mr Gulland said that for every one job in collection of recycling, eight jobs were required to reprocess it.

Reprocessing opportunities in Scotland are currently limited. They include two glass processors, one in Alloa and the other in Irvine, which currently take clear glass and turn it into new bottles, predominantly for the whisky industry.

While no paper mills exist in Scotland, Mr Gulland says it may be preferable to create a cardboard processing plant given the rise in packaging for online deliveries and the drop in the use of newsprint.

He added: “Recycling is obviously good for the environment but if we do something more productive in Scotland in the way we handle our recycling, there is potentially a huge value to the economy.”

Separate figures obtained under Freedom of Information show that Scotland’s local authorities only sold around £3.5m worth of recycling on the open market last year.

Some councils, such as Aberdeen City and South Lanarkshire, raised no revenue at all from the material, with its value absorbed into various contracts for sorting and transporting the recycling for reprocessing.

Western Isles made a loss on its recycling collection given the high transportation costs involved.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s largest local authority – Glasgow City Council – raised £821,247 from the sale of recycled material collected from households and businesses.

Local authorities in Scotland continue to pay around £100m a year in landfill tax bills.

Last December, the Scottish Government and the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) signed a new charter to bring some consistency to recycling systems across 32 local authorities and help improve the quality of recycling.

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