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

We need to keep reduce the amount of waste we create to protect the environment and conserve our valuable resources.

We can do this by following the waste management hierarchy. This encourages waste prevention, followed by re-use recycling, energy recovery, and, last of all, disposal (for example, in landfill).

Reducing consumption and waste generation, and increasing reuse and recycling will reduce greenhouse gas emissions


1. Scottish waste generated

The amount of waste generated in Scotland has been gradually decreasing:

The amount of waste generated varies between 10% and 20% year on year. This is mostly due to changes in the amount of Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste produced. This variation in C&D waste mostly depends on the number of large infrastructure projects in any given year.

See the full application showing Scottish Waste generated.

2. Scottish waste recycled

Much of what we discard contains useful materials and energy. Scotland has improved its recycling rates, with over half of all waste recycled.

Household waste recycled has increased by nearly ten percent since 2011. Household waste materials recycled are packaging wastes such as cardboard, plastic, metal and plastics. There is also green waste composted and food waste sent to sites for biological treatment. Since 2011 the amount of household food waste recycled has increased by over 400%.

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 nearly 50% since 2005.

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.

Ultimately, the aim is to eliminate waste from the economy by designing better products and business models and making it easier for people to repair, re-use and recycle goods when they have finished with them.

Practical action to reduce waste

The Zero Waste Scotland programme has been created to put in place the actions set out in the Zero Waste Plan.

It has helped to increase recycling collections, including supporting the roll-out of food waste collections by councils to over 1.2 million households, as well as investing in reprocessing facilities for materials like food waste and plastics.

Around 40% of Scotland’s household waste is currently recycled and this is continuing to rise, although more slowly as recycling collections become more established.

Reducing the amount of waste generated and encouraging more sustainable consumption are also important areas for action. The Scottish Government has published a separate strategy – Safeguarding Scotland’s resources – that focuses on waste prevention and the circular economy. It includes a target to reduce the amount of waste generated in Scotland by 15% by 2025. Many of the actions within this strategy will be put in place through the new Resource Efficient Scotland programme, which helps businesses and public-sector organisations to use materials, energy and water more sustainably. 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.

Litter and flytipping will be targeted in Scotland’s first national litter strategy and a national litter-prevention campaign. This will be complemented by plans to introduce a charge on single-use carrier bags.

New tools are being developed to collect and report information about waste. This includes a UK-wide Electronic Duty of Care system to record waste transfers (information to allow the tracking of movement of waste) and the Scottish waste data interrogator, an interactive data-analysis tool. These, together with the Carbon metric, will help to fulfill 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.

Many businesses are taking action to reduce the impact of waste from their products. This includes action encouraged through a number of voluntary collective initiatives like the Courtauld commitment, hospitality and food service agreement and product sustainability forum.

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 2021.

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 added on 03 Oct 2016

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Pages we suggest

Useful contacts

Enterprise agenciespartners in circular economy, and Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service

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