APRS Resources

Consultation response on Circular Economy Routemap

The APRS response to the Scottish Government consultation on the Circular Economy Routemap February 2024

Question 1: To what extent do you agree with the priority actions proposed within the Reduce and reuse strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree / Not answered]

The Product Stewardship Plan element here is crucial, and the definition of it on p31 is robust. Overall, the extent of the success or failure of the Scottish Government’s proposals across the Route Map and the Circular Economy Bill will be largely determined by the scope, ambition and urgency of any product stewardship regulations brought in. 

However, the priority product approach, with just three proposed (mattresses, tyres and textiles) would leave the vast bulk of the products used in Scotland within the existing linear economy model. We recommend inverting the logic here: instead of picking a few product categories for inclusion (worthwhile as those three are), the assumption should be that all products should be included, with exemptions only on a case-by-case basis.

This would fit with the single framework approach set out in the 2016 Scottish Government strategy document Making Things Last, as follows:

“We intend to explore the concept of a single framework for producer responsibility, bringing together common elements into one flexible and transparent system, making it simpler for businesses who are involved in more than one product type and making it easier to add new products and materials to the producer responsibility regime in the future.”

The targets for takeback could then be varied according to the specific circumstances of each sector or product category, as could the start date and the specific requirements on producers (e.g. reduce the use of virgin materials by a certain proportion by a particular date, recycle a certain proportion by a certain date, etc). The powers for Scottish Ministers to deliver this kind of transformative programme almost certainly exist already through Sections 50 and 51 of the Environment Act 2021 and Schedule 4, and would not touch the point of sale (i.e. would not require an exemption under the Internal Market Act 2020.

The other requirement not included here which APRS would recommend is for retailers to stock a certain proportion of products sold in refillable containers by a specified date, and for producers of them to take back and reuse a certain proportion of those sold. This could apply across categories such as drinks containers, food sold in jars, and the like.

The range of other policy interventions discussed is a sensible set of issues to consider, but requirements for takeback, including legally binding targets, plus specifications for how returned products should be handled, will be able to deliver across the range of objectives discussed there. It should not be the role of government to specify how industry then achieves those targets, merely to review whether they are adequate. For example, if achieving a particular return rate for mattresses required a refundable deposit, paid by the consumer, it should be up to industry to set that at a level capable of driving return rates in line with stretching regulatory targets. An industry-led approach of this sort would avoid some of the arguments used against deposit return on cans and bottles, and allow much more flexibility. Education campaigns would then also be required on the same basis. The aim in that case is to support the required recovery rate, not to deliver education per se.

Given that work has been ongoing on this issue since 2016, we would urge a quicker adoption of widespread producer responsibility/product stewardship: the Route Map does not commit to an implementation date, and only proposes the publication of a plan by 2026.

Question 2: To what extent do you agree with the further actions to 2030 listed across the Reduce and reuse strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree / Not answered]

Charging directly for undesirable products (such as single use cups) is a less effective approach than a requirement to accept cups back for cleaning and reuse (this also applies to cartons for food delivery services). 

The comparison with the plastic bag charge is informative. An 80% reduction is undoubtedly progress, but other countries (notably Bangladesh, China, India, and Taiwan) have simply banned plastic bags outright. 

As with plastic bags, there is a widely available alternative to single use cups – refillable cups. Unlike plastic bags, these need to be cleaned before they can be reused, and single use drinks cups are not typically taken back to the home. A requirement to take all cups back and to reduce the use of virgin materials would encourage coffee shops and other suppliers to promote refillable alternatives, and a deposit on those (introduced by industry if required to meet stewardship targets) would be more effective than a charge on single use cups, which in most cases will simply lead to a cost on the consumer for marginal behaviour change.

This section also talks about single-use vapes, another informative example. The proposed ban would only cover those without the option to recharge them, and manufacturers could then simply add a USB port and continue to expect them to be discarded after use. A takeback requirement on producers (and importers, who should in all cases, as with the deposit return regulations, be treated as producers) would instead encourage reusability, better product design, and lower levels of littering.

We support the proposals for reuse targets, provided these are not just top-level national targets without adequate supporting measures. Again, this should be implemented with binding targets on producers to support reuse in addition to support for reuse hubs and the like.

Similarly, we support the ban on the destruction of unsold goods, but we would caution against expecting far-reaching results from this policy, which would simply move a small number products onto the lowest rung of the linear economy (i.e. switching them from produce-dispose to produce-use-dispose). The Policy Memorandum for the Circular Economy Bill – based solely on a per cap estimate from French data – says £22m worth of goods might be landfilled or incinerated each year. If right, this would be less than one seven hundredth of one percent of the Scottish economy.

Behaviour change through communications is unlikely to have any significant effect, though: this is a system problem, in need of system solutions, and a focus on education and communications has never previously delivered in this space.

Finally, the lengthening of product lifespans is a worthwhile objective. This can, again, be delivered in part through product stewardship. Making producers fully responsible for the lifetime costs associated with their products radically transforms the economic incentives around product design. Currently, producers’ ability to externalise their costs onto local authorities and the environment gives at least a partial competitive advantage within each market to short life products and built-in obsolescence (vapes provide a good example here, including those which are notionally not single-use).

With comprehensive producer responsibility or product stewardship in place, this incentive flips. Companies that design their products have a longer life, or to be more readily reused, refurbished or recycled (in that order), would then incur lower recovery costs. Any competitor which then continues to follow linear product design principles once they are required to internalise their recovery costs, would be at a market disadvantage.

Question 3: To what extent do you agree with the priority actions proposed within the Modernise Recycling strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree / Not answered]

The objectives in this section are worthwhile, and should be adopted. However, the crucial issue here is sequencing. Requirement on local councils to provide clearer recycling services should be seen in logical order, i.e. introduced only following moves to bring in widespread product stewardship regulations. Once producers are, as default, responsible for their products at end of life, the picture for local government changes radically.

Many items would then simply not end up in municipal waste or recycling streams. Others might be collected that way at producer expense. Either way, the costs would then be borne by the relevant party – producers/importers – rather than local authorities and the taxpayer. This sequencing will then avoid substantial setup costs for local government for particular product categories which producers might then become responsible for at a later date.

Once those changes have been made, local government as a whole is likely to be more amenable to improving collection of what remains outside such a product stewardship programme, which should indeed be done through co-design.

Question 4: To what extent do you agree with the further actions to 2030 listed across the Modernise Recycling strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree / Not answered]

Only once those two steps above have been taken – first, producer responsibility; second, local authority service redesign – would it make sense to impose requirements on householders, such as the duty of care proposed in the Bill. Once producers can no longer externalise their costs of recovery, and once local government collection services have adapted to waste and recycling flows which are both reduced in volume and more valuable, a case could be made for moving to finish the job with a level of consumer responsibility to participate (although that may not be necessary if producers of a particular product category find themselves in a position where offering a sufficient refundable deposit as an incentive for return and collection). 

Question 5: To what extent do you agree with the priority actions proposed within the Decarbonise disposal strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree /Not answered]

Ending incineration will be a tricky challenge, especially given the long contracts some local authorities have signed, but without this the decarbonisation objectives are unlikely to be met. The success or otherwise of decarbonising this sector will depend overwhelmingly on measures which lead to less material being sent for incineration, in line with the waste hierarchy – i.e. reducing the consumption of materials that cannot be handled any other way, reusing where possible, and so on. 

Expecting the sector to lead in the devising of a plan here is also unlikely to be successful or efficient. In the absence of economic or regulatory incentives for operators to decarbonise we don’t expect the required progress to be made in decarbonising the sector.  The Route Map also says that “a significant impact can be achieved on a voluntary basis” – we would question whether there is evidence for such an optimistic position.

Question 6: To what extent do you agree with the further actions to 2030 listed across the Decarbonise disposal strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree /Not answered]

Question 7: To what extent do you agree with the priority actions proposed within the Strengthen the circular economy strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree /Not answered]

In our view, producing a further strategy document should be lower priority than implementation of direct producer responsibility measures via regulation. If the 2016 strategy document had been acted on in full we would have already seen a marked transition of the Scottish economy towards a circular model. As things stand, no such progress has been made. Similarly, targets may or may not drive policy change (arguably renewable energy generation targets did, whereas fuel poverty targets did not): again, what is key is the actions. Clear and effective actions with no strategy document will make change: a strategy document without the required actions will not.

Question 8: To what extent do you agree with the further actions to 2030 listed across the Strengthen the circular economy strategic aim? Please provide evidence to support your answer if possible.

[Strongly agree / Agree / Neither agree nor disagree / Disagree / Strongly disagree /Not answered]

Again, these supporting actions are at best indirect or intangible. 

Question 9: Please provide any further information or evidence that should be

considered in the accompanying Equalities Impact Assessment

Question 10: Please provide any further information or evidence that should

be considered in the accompanying Fairer Scotland Assessment

Question 11: Please provide any further information or evidence that should

be considered in the accompanying Island Communities Impact Assessment.

Question 12: Please provide any further information or evidence that should

be considered in the accompanying Business and Regulatory Impact

Assessment.

Question 13: What are your views on the accuracy and scope of the

environmental baseline set out in the SEA Environmental Report?

Question 14: What are your views on the predicted environmental effects of

the draft Circular Economy and Waste Route Map as set out in the SEA

Environmental Report? Please give details of any additional relevant sources.

Question 15: What are your views regarding potential reasonable alternatives,

in reference to the approach set out in the SEA Environmental Report?

Question 16: What are your views on the approach to mitigation, enhancement and monitoring of the environmental effects set out in the SEA Environmental Report?

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