Read ScotLINK’s full paper here.
Research shows global consumption of natural resources has tripled since the 1970s and is set to further double by 2060, and 90% of biodiversity loss is caused by resource extraction and processing. Material flow accounts for Scotland, published in 2021, show our material footprint to be more than double sustainable levels and carbon footprint data shows that 82% of Scotland’s carbon footprint is derived from emissions embedded in goods we consume. Addressing the quantity of raw materials used in our economy is therefore key in meeting climate and biodiversity goals.
The best way to reduce the quantity of raw materials that we use is to make our economy more circular, with repairable products designed to last as long as possible; made of materials that can be safely reused or recycled. Such an economy should be regenerative, replenishing natural systems through returning biological materials as composts to the soil and restoring and nurturing biodiversity. Scotland has a Circular Economy Strategy, Making Things Last, and there has been some valuable work, for example, in supporting innovative enterprises and banning some single use plastics. It is encouraging to see circular economy principles increasingly embedded in other policy areas such as the draft National Planning Framework. However, overall progress in converting the high-level commitments into on-the-ground reality has been slow with, for example, missed household recycling targets.
Our climate and nature emergencies demand systemic change across our economy to really address the impact from the way we make and use products. Such systemic change needs to be driven by targets to focus minds – in all areas of the economy – on reducing our use of raw materials. In the same way that our climate change targets are driving policy to decarbonise energy and heat production, a material footprint target could drive policy to ‘circularise’ our economy. The Scottish Government has committed to bring forward a Circular Economy Bill in the current parliamentary term. This bill must establish a shared vision, set ambitious targets and a framework for implementation. We urge the Scottish Government to bring forward a bold bill to do this, which will galvanise action in all sectors of the economy.