Survey reveals what's in Scots' bins

Waste survey highlights opportunities for households to recycle more.

15 Feb 11

Findings from the first national survey into waste collected by Scottish councils highlight major opportunities for households to recycle more.

The survey results, published today by Zero Waste Scotland, highlight that whilst there has been a significant increase in recycling - from 5% to almost 36% nationally in 10 years - many common recyclable materials such as newspapers and magazines, cans and glass bottles are still being put in household rubbish bins.

The Composition of Municipal Waste in Scotland research was commissioned by the Scottish Government and is the first detailed national study of its kind.  It is based on studies of waste from eight council areas, and covers both household waste and council trade waste and schools collections.

It highlights that while Scots households are recycling more than ever before, there are still opportunities to increase recycling, including of the most common recyclable items.  For example:

  • Newspapers and magazines – 67% are currently recycled
  • Glass bottles – 44% are currently recycled
  • Metal cans – 22% are currently recycled
  • Other Paper and Cardboard – 26% is currently recycled
  • Plastic bottles – 19% are currently recycled

The report highlights food waste as another major opportunity to increase recycling and reduce waste – at the moment it makes up around a third of household rubbish bins and 4% is collected for recycling or composting.

It also shows there are further opportunities to increase recycling from small businesses and schools through council trade waste collections, especially by focusing on paper, card and food waste.

Iain Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland said:

"This study gives us a snapshot of the waste councils in Scotland currently have to deal with.

"Collectively householders now recycle more than a million tonnes a year, but this could be even more if we all get in the habit of recycling more things, more often.

"Our aim should be to make sure that if this survey is repeated in 10 years time, its results would be radically different.  That will need action on many levels, from encouraging people to reduce their waste and recycle more, to working with manufacturers to make things easier to recycle, and supporting councils and recycling firms to increase collections and build new recycling facilities."

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

"Today’s report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, shows those who do recycle make a real difference. An extraordinary 67 per cent of newspapers and magazines are currently recycled, along with 60 per cent of glass bottles. This, of course, is a fantastic result but we should all constantly challenge ourselves to recycle more, more often. Our marketing campaign, also launched today, hopes to do just that.

"The report is concrete evidence that recycling does have a significant impact, by diverting waste from landfill and, in turn, helping us on the road to becoming a zero waste society. Ahead of our Zero Waste Plan launching in the next few months, this snap shot of where Scotland is performing well and where attention needs focussed will help us achieve our targets and, essentially, make Scotland a cleaner, greener place to live."

Councillor Alison Hay, COSLA's Regeneration and Sustainable Development Spokesperson said:

"Scottish Councils want to see as much waste as possible being recycled and as much value extracted from it as we can. Household waste, can no longer just be dumped in holes in the ground.  Overall however we need to reduce the amount of waste created in the first place; and continue to re-enforce the idea of waste being seen as a resource and as such re-used and recycled."

Key findings

  • The largest elements in municipal waste, by weight, are: paper and card (21%); food and kitchen waste (18%); garden waste (16%); other combustibles (wood, nappies, etc – 13%); and dense plastics (6%).
  • The average weekly household residual bin still contains around 5kg of recyclable materials, including:
  1. 510g of glass (equivalent to two beer bottles)
  2. 510g of card (equivalent to around seven breakfast cereal boxes)
  3. 408g of newspapers and magazines (up to three tabloid newspapers)
  4. 306g of plastic bottles (equivalent to around ten x 1 litre milk bottles)
  5. 200g of metal cans (equivalent to 13 x 330ml fizzy drinks cans)
  • Current recycling rates for municipal waste are over 35%, having increased from less than 5% in 2000.

Notes For Editors

  • Zero Waste Scotland is the new programme created by the Scottish Government to support delivery of its Zero Waste Plan. It integrates the activities of WRAP Scotland, Zero Waste Scotland, Keep Scotland Tidy, Remade Scotland, Envirowise in Scotland, NISP in Scotland, and some programmes delivered by the Community Recycling Network for Scotland.
  • Waste composition analysis was carried out in eight of the 32 local authorities in Scotland. The participating local authorities were selected to represent Scotland as a whole, according to a sampling framework.  The eight local authorities selected were Edinburgh, Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, Highland, Moray, Orkney Islands, Renfrewshire and South Ayrshire.
  • The full report can be downloaded from
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