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The next big thing for a circular economy? Let me sleep on it…

Today, we’re launching a campaign to get the people of Scotland excited about the circular economy and what inspiring changes it could bring about.

Iain Gulland | 10 Jun 15

We’re putting forward five ideas – from tool sharing to 3D printing – which we think could take hold here in Scotland.  They’re suggestions to get people thinking and talking, and we want to hear your views and your own ideas on the hashtag #makethingslast.

The inspiration for this came from our Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, who told the Scottish Parliament last month he was looking for the ‘next big thing’ to follow the success of our 5p carrier bag charge, which was introduced last October and has helped cut bag use by an estimated 80% since.

Mr Lochhead asked whether the next big thing might be a deposit-return system for drinks packaging, citing our recent feasibility study on how such a scheme might work for Scotland.  We’re currently seeking further evidence on the pros and cons on that, so I won’t pass comment on that right now.

Instead, I’d like to put forward an idea about something that keeps me awake at night:  mattress recycling.

I’d like to see us introduce a producer responsibility scheme to tackle mattresses.  It’s topical as the world’s first such scheme went live in the US state of Connecticut last month and California and Rhode Island State are set to follow sometime soon. 

The Connecticut scheme is producer responsibility done well.  It’s not about a ‘blame game’, shifting the financial ‘burden’ from one place to another, and it’s not about hitting often arbitrary recycling rates.  At its heart it’s about creating jobs.  The mattress manufacturers and retailers understand the potential of their products to create jobs further down the line in the collection, de-construction and recycling.  Why wouldn’t they want to create more value in the local economy as a consequence of their activities – that’s surely a virtuous circle?  

The idea had been championed by Terry McDonald, who has pioneered mattress recycling through his work with the St Vincent De Paul Society in Eugene, Oregon.  I have been privileged to visit Eugene in the past and what Terry started for the benefit of his community there is now catching on across the US.  

Coincidently, I spent an evening with Terry just a few weeks ago.  He informed me that the Connecticut scheme is funded by a $9 (c£6) ‘levy’ on the purchase of all new mattresses and bed bases and it supports a freely accessible collection and drop-off system to capture the mattresses at end of life.  They predict it will support hundreds of jobs across a state of just over 3.5million people.  California, with almost 40 million people, expects thousands of jobs.

This isn’t a pipe dream for Scotland.  We’ve researched it previously and the analysis suggests it would work in our system.  Somewhat ironically our work was used in creating the business case for the California scheme!

Terry’s view is that ‘waste-based businesses’ as he calls them should work anywhere if the right conditions are created.  A producer levy helps create those conditions.  ‘Why not here in Scotland?’ is Terry’s refrain.  It’s a good question. 

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