Waste is produced by households and businesses. Progress is being made to reduce waste and increase recycling in Scotland, providing environmental and economic benefits.

Key messages

A circular approach to our economy, where we move from a "take, make and dispose" model to one where we keep materials in use, is imperative if we are to tackle the climate and nature crises.

Scotland has made significant, long-term progress. Waste generation continues to decline, and we recycle more and landfill less. Carbon emissions from the waste and resources sector have reduced by almost three quarters over the past 20 years.

However, progress has slowed and more must be done if Scotland is to reach its ambitious targets. We must dramatically cut waste production across the economy, recover more, and dispose of only the very minimum. Doing this relies on more than the waste management industry and action is required across the whole economy. 

1. Scottish waste generated

The current target is for a 15 % reduction in waste generation by 2025 compared to 2011. Between 2011 and 2022:

  • Total waste decreased by 15.1 % (1,800,031 tonnes).
  • Household waste decreased by 10.4 % (272,082 tonnes).
  • Commercial and Industrial Waste decreased by 11.1 % (579,089 tonnes).

The amount of construction waste varies significantly year on year. This is largely due to changes in the amount of waste soils produced by construction projects and can depend on the number of large infrastructure projects in any given year.

See the full application showing Scottish Waste generated.

2. Scottish waste recycled

The current target is for 70 % of waste to be recycled by 2025.

Between 2011 and 2022, Scotland's overall recycling rate increased from 52.5 % to 62.3 %.

Household waste recycled has increased to 43.3 % in 2022 but progress has slowed over the last five years.

See the full application showing Household Waste generated.

3. Scottish waste landfilled

Historically, a lot of waste was sent to landfill. The amount of waste sent to landfill has reduced year on year. Overall, waste landfilled in Scotland has decreased by 55 % since 2005.

The current target is for Scotland to landfill less than 5 % of its waste by 2025. In 2022, Scotland landfilled 23.2 % of its waste.

See the full application showing landfill waste trends.

What are we doing?

Scotland’s aim is to become a circular economy where products and materials are kept in high value use for as long as possible.

Making things last - a circular economy strategy for Scotland

The circular economy strategy for Scotland contains actions to reduce the amount of waste we produce and ensure that we recover as many valuable materials from it as possible. It sets long-term targets for recycling and composting 70 % of all Scottish waste by 2025, and sending no more than 5 % to landfill.

The Scottish Government is developing a new Circular Economy Bill and Recycling Route Map to further push progress towards the 2025 targets and beyond.

Reducing the amount of waste generated and encouraging more sustainable consumption are important areas for action. Individuals are also encouraged to reduce the amount of waste they produce; for example by the Love Food Hate Waste campaign or by buying re-used goods.

In 2022, Scotland banned a range of single-use plastic products, to conserve resources and tackle marine pollution. This is on top of the charge for single use carrier bags, which is estimated to have reduced carrier bag use by 80 % in its first year of operation.

The Scottish Government launched a £70 million five-year Recycling Improvement Fund in 2021 to provide opportunities for capital funding grants for local authorities to improve recycling infrastructure and services across Scotland. 

New tools are being developed to collect and report information about waste. This includes a UK-wide Digital Waste Tracking system to record waste transfers. Together with the Carbon Metric, this will help to fulfil the aims of the Waste Data Strategy and build a better picture of the impact and management of waste and resources.

The waste management industry is supporting Scotland's aspirations by providing services to recycle and re-use waste, and investing in alternatives to landfill. Many organisations in this industry have signed up to Scotland's resource sector commitment, which sets quality standards for recycling services.

Some businesses are already adopting the circular economy concept; for example, by introducing re-use and repair services, or leasing goods to customers rather than selling them. This will affect the types of things that end up as waste. Many leading companies in this area are supporters of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which aims to speed up the transition to a circular economy.

Policy and legislation

Waste management in the EU

Since 1975, the EU has been introducing laws to help minimise the harmful effects of waste and encourage Europeans to conserve natural resources. This has driven waste-management legislation and practices in Scotland, the UK, and every other EU member state.

The European Waste Framework Directive came into force in December 2010. It focuses on waste prevention and on turning EU member states into societies that recycle waste.

Making things last – A circular economy strategy for Scotland, sets out to reduce the amount of waste we produce and ensure that we recover as many valuable materials from it as possible. It sets long-term targets for recycling and composting 70% of all Scottish waste by 2025, and sending no more than 5% to landfill.

To support these aims, the Waste (Scotland) Regulations were passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012. These regulations include requirements to separate key recyclable materials, including food waste that comes from homes and businesses. There will ultimately be a ban on biodegradable waste going to landfill by 2026.

These actions will:

  • Ensure more materials can be re-used or recycled.
  • Ensure that energy is recovered from materials that can’t be re-used or recycled.
  • Limit the need to send waste to landfill.
  • Encourage investment in the infrastructure needed for increased recycling and recovery.
  • Improve public confidence in recycling and further encourage the culture of recycling across Scotland.

This page was updated on 03 May 2024

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Useful external links

Useful contacts

The Scottish Government - Has responsibility for national waste policy.

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.

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

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.

Enterprise agenciespartners in circular economy, and Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service