Scots recycled less in 2020 than in each of the last six years

There was also a jump in amount of household waste incinerated across the country.

Scots recycled less in 2020 than in each of the last six years AzmanJaka via iStock
Figures published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on Tuesday revealed the coronavirus pandemic had impacted on Scotland's waste disposal.

Scots recycled the lowest level of waste in seven years in 2020, it has been revealed.

The amount of household waste recycled between in 2019 and 2020 decreased by 66,000 tonnes to 1.02 million tonnes.

Figures published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on Tuesday revealed the coronavirus pandemic had impacted on Scotland’s waste disposal.

The environmental watchdog said recycling had likely been impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown and other restrictions, with both the amount of waste recycled and the waste recycling rate being the lowest recorded since 2013.

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Although less household waste was landfilled, there was a large rise in the amount incinerated – with an increase of more than 25% on 2019.

The volume of trash being burned, instead of going to landfill or being disposed of another way, has more than tripled in the last ten years.

The amount of hazardous healthcare and biological waste incinerated in Scotland has increased by almost 4000% in the last two years.

Recycling centres across the country were closed during the height of the pandemic last year – with local authorities reporting a surge in fly-tipping.

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It comes after Scotland hosted the UN climate summit COP26 in Glasgow last month, where world leaders agreed a pact to limit global warming to 1.5C.

Despite the fall in recycling rates, more glass and plastic materials were processed.

It comes as ministers have been urged to delay the introduction of the SNP’s flagship deposit return scheme until 2023.

However, the carbon impact of Scotland’s household waste continued its downward trajectory, decreasing to the equivalent of one metric tonne of CO2 per person – a reduction of almost a fifth since 2011.

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said there was “little doubt” the disruption caused by the pandemic hit recycling efforts in 2020.

“In particular, the closure of recycling centres in many areas seems to have had the greatest impact,” he said.

“The good news is that the volume of materials collected for recycling at the kerbside increased, showing that there is a keen appetite to recycle more amongst householders.

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“It is difficult to draw any conclusions about recycling behaviour and performance by comparing one year of a pandemic which brought substantial disruption, as 2020 did, with a more ‘normal’ years.”

SEPA’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn said that while it was positive that for the ninth year in a row the move away from landfill continued, the latest data from the regulator refelcted the ” realism of the public health emergency”.

He said: “Last month, the world came to Glasgow to agree global action on the climate emergency. The message was clear that together, as counties, companies, or communities – we all have a role to play.

“What’s important is not the past, but what we do next. We’ve shown that by working together, we can rise to the challenge of a healthcare emergency. We need now to show that we can do this again in tackling the climate crisis.”

Circular economy minister and Scottish Green MSP Lorna Slater highlighted that despite the pressure the pandemic put on household recylcing, the carbon impact of Scotland’s household waste continued to fall.

“We have recently provided £20m of support for local authorities to help them increase recycling and cut emissions,” she said.

“This is the beginning of one of the biggest investments in recycling in Scotland in a generation.

“We also want to see materials remain in use for as long as possible before they are recycled and will be introducing an ambitious Circular Economy Bill to help make that happen.

“As well as reducing and recycling, we must deal with waste effectively. That’s why we have initiated an independent review of the role of incineration, which will make sure it aligns with our emissions reduction targets.”