Getting out strong and committing to zero waste

So there we have it.  The curtain has come down on the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, and what a spectacle they were.

Written By Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland  |  7 Aug 14

I only caught one event ‘up close and personal’ – the men’s cycling road race won brilliantly in typically Scottish conditions by Wales’ Geraint Thomas.  But the electric atmosphere around the Games was evident through the whole eleven days and we all witnessed many great moments. 

Like many Scots, one of my favourites was Lynsey Sharp’s emotional silver medal in the women’s 800m, won against a backdrop of illness and personal difficulties.  Her defining moment, holding the saltire aloft with relief etched across her face was captured brilliantly in a photo by a friend of Zero Waste Scotland, Bobby Gavin from Valpak.  Incredibly – in a ‘heart on the sleeve’ way – Lynsey had scrawled her race tactics on the back of her hand in permanent marker with the words “Get out strong.  Commit.”

I like that as a motto for our zero waste movement too.

It was evident in the volunteer effort behind delivering the games, in which we at Zero Waste Scotland played our part, helping the organisers of Festival 2014 – the Games’ cultural programme – to recruit 80 recycling ambassadors to help engage the public around using the separate recycling infrastructure.  All those I’ve spoken to who took part said it was an inspiring experience which also brought home the reality that making high quality recycling happen requires a genuine team effort.

Like many volunteer efforts, what struck me was the diverse range of people that were motivated to help out. The volunteers we put forward included students, local residents, retirees, waste managers, community workers and a number of our own staff.  There may well have been butchers, bakers and candlestick makers too.   

Leadership was hugely important too – and in Festival 2014’s Sustainability Manager Steve Taylor – the volunteers had a leadership example to further inspire their commitment.

I was struck by the same sense of strong leadership and collective commitment yesterday when I joined Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment to announce Dunbar in East Lothian as Scotland’s first Zero Waste Town.  This is a really exciting initiative which is galvanising the whole community – at every level – to get behind practical action to reduce waste and use resources more efficiently.

The project will be coordinated by local community group Sustaining Dunbar, which will work closely with Zero Waste Scotland, East Lothian Council, local groups, businesses and residents to coordinate a comprehensive approach to transforming attitudes to waste in the town.  This is the first time we’ve trialled a project like this, involving so many sections of the community, and I look forward to seeing what can be achieved when all these people work together to achieve a shared goal.

Once upon a time these kind of initiatives would have been the preserve of well-intentioned and committed ‘dark greens’.  But the launch in Dunbar truly was a cross-section of the community.  It suggests to me there has been a ‘coming of age’ for the idea of zero waste, which is getting all sorts of new people motivated, especially businesses.  This may have been influenced by the waste regulations in Scotland and the consistent message pushed right across the industry that there is no waste, only resources.  This fundamental shift in perception is crucial to reaching the goals we’ve set, and underpins the actions Dunbar has planned, such as opening a facility to make re-use of goods easier, and working with local schools to educate pupils on the value of materials.

As the project progresses, I look forward to seeing these ideas become actions, and to finding out how we can replicate the successes across the country.

I understand Lynsey Sharp hails from Dumfries.  Residents of the town will soon be presented with a comprehensive household recycling service for the first time in an effort to propel the area upwards from having one of Scotland’s lowest recycling rates.  Maybe with leadership, the people there could be the next to ‘get out strong and commit’ by being our next Zero Waste Town?

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