We use and re-use resources wisely and have ended the throw-away culture

Last updated: 16 December 2021

This outcome is about transitioning to a circular economy, where resources are used sustainably and kept in high value use for as long as possible, minimising waste.

Here we report three indicators that help us to monitor progress towards this outcome: total waste generated, carbon footprint of waste, and material footprint. In Scotland we consume a wide array of products that require energy and resources to manufacture and transport, much of which ends up as waste. Gains being made in the reduction of both household waste and commercial and industrial waste have been offset by increases in the amounts of construction and demolition waste generated. Although the carbon footprint of our waste has been reduced in recent years, we continue to consume volumes of materials far in excess of our sustainable material footprint.

Following the waste hierarchy allows us to first reduce consumption, and then repair, reuse and recycle products, conserving high value resources and minimising the carbon emissions from waste.

The amount of both household, and commercial and industrial, waste generated in Scotland has reduced since 2011, however the largest waste stream by weight is construction and demolition, which varies significantly each year and shows no consistent trend. Over the same time period there has been a clear reduction in the carbon footprint of our waste. The waste carbon footprint estimates worldwide emissions associated with the life cycle of waste and includes emissions associated with both production and waste management.

As the Monitoring Framework develops, we will consider additional indicators to help better assess the sustainability of our resource use and Scotland’s transition to a circular economy.

Total waste generated

Indicator Updated: 04 November 2021

Headline: The amount of waste generated in some sectors has declined consistently, but construction and demolition waste remains variable.

Source: SEPA Data for this chart can be downloaded from the Data Source page.

This indicator reports the annual amount of waste, in millions of tonnes, generated in Scotland from all sources: household, commercial, industrial and construction and demolition. Find out more about the total waste generated indicator.

The total amount of waste generated from all sources in Scotland has declined by 4% or 508,000 tonnes per annum since the 2011 baseline.

Reductions, since 2011, in both the amounts of household waste (-7% or 185,000 tonnes per annum) and commercial and industrial (-22% or 920,000 tonnes per annum) waste generated, have been offset by increases in the amounts of construction and demolition waste generated (+12% or 613,000 tonnes per annum). Construction and demolition wastes make up around half of all waste and are highly variable year to year, linked to the scale and type of construction activity in Scotland at any given time.

For waste generated from all sources, there is a target of a 15% reduction from 2011 levels by 2025, derived from ‘Safeguarding Scotland's resources: blueprint for a more resource-efficient and circular economy’.

Please note that figures for 2019 and 2020 are unavailable. Please see the Technical Hub for details.

Carbon footprint of Scotland’s waste

Indicator Updated: 04 November 2021

Headline: The carbon footprint of Scotland’s waste has been declining since 2011.

Source: Zero Waste Scotland. Data for this chart can be downloaded from the Data Source page.

This indicator reports the annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions associated with Scotland’s waste. It includes emissions associated with growing, mining, processing, and transporting material that ultimately gets thrown away, as well as emissions during recycling, treatment, and disposal. Find out more about the carbon footprint of Scotland’s waste indicator.

Since 2011, the carbon footprint of Scotland’s waste has decreased by 30.4%, with much of this decrease (84%) arising from a reduction in the carbon impact of materials production.

Most of Scotland’s waste carbon impacts are concentrated in a few materials which either have a high carbon intensity or occur in large volumes (or both).

The waste category with the single greatest carbon impact is animal and mixed food waste, which accounted for 5% of waste by weight but 25% of waste carbon impacts. Similarly, textile waste, which accounts for just 1% of waste by weight, is responsible for 17% of waste carbon impacts.

In carbon terms, it is far better to avoid the generation of waste in the first place with recycling, or alternatively disposal, representing less desirable alternatives. Since 2017, the amount of food waste recycled now exceeds that of food waste landfilled, reducing the carbon impacts. Successful changes in the way that waste is treated, by diverting waste from landfill to incinerators, continues to help in the management of carbon impacts.

Scotland’s material footprint

Indicator Updated: 16 December 2021

Headline: Scotland’s per capita material footprint is more than double the sustainable level.

Source: Zero Waste Scotland. Data for this chart can be downloaded from the Data Source page.

This indicator identifies the weight and types of materials being extracted in Scotland, imported into Scotland and exported from Scotland. The Material Flow Accounts for Scotland were published for the first time in 2021. Find out more about Scotland’s material footprint indicator.

Scotland’s per capita material footprint of 18.4 tonnes in 2017 compares with an EU average of 14.1 tonnes per capita. Scotland’s is higher due to a higher than average consumption of metal and metal ores. Both the Scottish and EU material footprint are higher than the sustainable threshold experts believe we should be aiming for – 8 tonnes per capita. To reduce our material footprint we must reduce the materials we use in both Scottish made and imported goods.

The Material Flow Accounts report also identifies that while GDP grew by 11% between 2011 to 2017, resource use showed signs of declining. Reducing resource use whilst maintaining economic performance is a primary aim of developing a more circular economy that keeps materials in circulation for longer. Research indicates that it is possible to have a high quality of life on a sustainable level of material consumption.