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People power heats up pace of change

As Scotland basks (or boils!) in record temperatures, the rate of change around how we live our lives in a more circular, and more responsible, manner, is heating up even faster.

Iain Gulland | 28 Jun 18

What strikes me is that it is people power that is causing more than just a summer sizzle around the issues of single-use plastics, packaging, drinks on the go, disposable cups, re-usable products, marine litter, food waste – I could go on. We’re seeing increasing interest in almost every area of our work and it’s all year round, rain or shine.

The most high-profile example of the agenda driving forward is the announcement of the Scottish Government’s eagerly awaited consultation on introducing a deposit return scheme. We’re the first nation in the UK to do so, and Zero Waste Scotland is closely involved in delivery. I was privileged this week to accompany the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham to Glencairn Primary School in Motherwell for the launch, where the pupils have been tackling the causes of litter and improving waste prevention through their eco committee and using the latest technology – including computer coding – to design robots to pick up litter.

Before that, I was in Oban for the Scottish Government’s first-ever marine litter summit. Senior representatives from business and industry packed the event. They are making changes to their products, their services, their supply chain – and it’s because it’s what their customers want and are pushing them to do more. What stayed with me from Oban, was the pupils who took part -  from two local primary schools, and Glasgow’s Sunnyside Primary School, who created the high profile #NaeStrawAtAw campaign. These pupils were actually asking to have more about issues around waste, recycling and litter included on their school curriculum. They want to know more. They can see the problems inherent in the ‘throwaway society’, and they want to fix them. We need their engagement, ingenuity and drive.

Individuals often see a problem, and want to fix it, by setting up a group to tackle the issue or establishing a business to provide a solution. And people will support it even if it’s not ‘business as usual'. Ask the team behind Locavore, the packaging free supermarket in Glasgow which saw three times as many customers as expected in its first month, or The Edinburgh Remakery, a re-use and repair hub, which continues to expand.

Staff here at Zero Waste Scotland are committed to harnessing that people power. We’ve supported financially and otherwise, both the above ideas, and though our Zero Waste Town programme, which is about to be rolled out to coastal communities who want to cut down on packaging in their midst, we’ve enabled the innovation and determination of individuals from Bute to Perth and Dunbar, to scale up their efforts in a way that organisational backing like ours makes possible. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to support ideas that people generate to help make changes in their own community, to fit their own local circumstances – Zero Waste Bute, our first zero waste island, is a great example of that – or develop new business ideas that provide what their customers want, in a new and more circular way – our circular economy business support service works with many.

Which brings me back to deposit return. The circular economy is about nothing if not people – their future, and their livelihoods. While I’ve been highlighting the immediate practical benefits of a deposit return scheme to our recycling and litter levels in recent weeks, I am also keen to stress the economic opportunity it presents for Scotland. A deposit return scheme, by increasing the quantity and quality of materials collected, has the potential to boost the reprocessing industry here in Scotland, creating jobs and new businesses, through this and the management of the scheme itself.

And as we seek, during the consultation period, to engage with as many people as possible to help design the best, most appropriate scheme for Scotland, I am keeping in mind that for this scheme to flourish, it will take the support of people, who believe in it and back it, and want to see more changes happen. And the benefits of that will last a lot longer than a summer heatwave.

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