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Community is the key to Scotland’s circular economy

Last week we saw the launch of three more Zero Waste Towns.  Communities in Perth, Leith and Central Edinburgh will now be engaged in local projects aiming to develop new resourceful initiatives and promote sustainable choices.

Iain Gulland | 29 Nov 17

Building on the legacy of two previous Zero Waste Towns’ initiatives, funded initially by Zero Waste Scotland - but led by communities in Bute and Dunbar respectively, I’m excited to see what’s to come from these three new projects. 

The scope and focus of the Zero Waste Town approach is designed by locals with community benefits and aspirations in mind.  There’s no standard template for this. 

We’ve seen Zero Waste Bute and Zero Waste Dunbar take hold and flourish – and, importantly, continue with vigour after our funding period came to a close.  For example, Zero Waste Dunbar recently opened a re-use hub right on its high street, an initiative entirely led by the community. The experience in Bute has led to a cross Argyll initiative Re-style Argyll, an on-line retail and donating platform for reusable goods which links up with other community reuse groups across the area.

This continued community participation and action clearly indicates that individual citizens and the wider community are engaged, invested, and see local value and benefit in pursuing zero waste and circular activities. 

The activities of a Zero Waste Town vary, depending on what the communities themselves want to do and the opportunities they see.  In this way, Zero Waste Towns reflects the creativity, inventiveness, and commitment of its residents – and for me, this is hugely significant. 

Zero Waste Towns demonstrate some of the first steps in awakening Scottish communities to the opportunities offered by the circular economy, a movement towards a society that makes things last and values everything as a resource. 

Scotland is blazing a trail in our commitment to growing a circular economy – and Zero Waste Scotland is the lead organisation tasked with making it happen, supported by a collaborative network of stakeholders across sectors and industries and, most importantly, fully backed by the Scottish Government. 

We’re covering all angles – working at a UK-level with big business to influence large-scale change; actively supporting SME’s here in Scotland to develop circular economy business models; and promoting sustainable behaviours like buying re-used products straight to the consumer.

But for me, engaging communities has a distinct and crucial part to play in developing the type of circular economy we want for our country.

If the circular economy represents our opportunity to reconfigure our society, we must ensure we do this in ways which include communities from the get-go. For me, this is the only way we can truly transition to a circular economy. It’s also critical in ensuring the transition is inclusive and sustainable in the long term.  Community participation needs to be at the heart of what we do.

Engaging with communities, brought together by locality, is one important way to do this – as we are seeing with Zero Waste Towns.  But my meaning of community extends beyond geography. 

The power of communities is evident and can be harnessed in other ways too.  Think of Hack-a-thons where communities of experts come together to be inventive – not necessarily because they are subject-matter experts in the sector set to benefit from the final outputs, but because they love finding technological solutions in any field.  Think of crowd-funding where communities make things possible through investment that otherwise may not be secured. 

Inclusive communities are the best breeding grounds for inventiveness and ingenuity – and this is exactly the environment we need to create in Scotland to fuel a circular economy. 

After all, the principles of the circular economy embody inclusion.  It necessitates everyone working together to meet regenerative and restorative outcomes – which are to the benefit of all parties involved. 

Indeed, I’d go as far to say that this type of collaborative cross-community working is one of Scotland’s USP’s, and something that makes us an ideal environment to pioneer circular innovation and demonstrate how it could work in practice.      

Re-use and repair is the obvious example here.  This is a sector that has been rooted in community involvement for a number of years.  We know the social benefit here from the number of jobs and training opportunities created locally.  Zero Waste Scotland’s Revolve quality standard for re-use and repair organisations is driving engagement to circular economy in the community. 

The projects supported through the Climate Challenge Fund provide us with a whole host of other great examples.

But for me, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the opportunities a circular economy could present for communities. 

The circular economy isn’t just about big business or entrepreneurs.  In my view, if we seize this opportunity in the way we should, there’s huge potential to ensure we develop a circular economy which prioritises maximising community benefit – building this in as an intrinsic part of the way our society operates. 

I am convinced that our communities are the key to developing Scotland’s circular economy, our challenge is to inspire, engage, and harness the inventiveness of Scottish communities of all types and in all locations to work towards circular solutions we can all be proud of – and benefit from. 

Let’s place community benefit at the heart of everything we do. Let’s make Scotland a better place to live and work – and continue to build our credentials as a leading circular economy nation.   

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