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Scotland’s Zero Waste Towns and Circular Cities

It has been over three years since a chat with Guido Braam, then of Netherlands-based Circle Economy, changed our whole approach to business engagement around the circular economy.

Iain Gulland | 18 May 18

Up until that moment we, at Zero Waste Scotland, had relied on the sectoral approach that has been a feature of our more well-known resource efficiency work. Guido however, encouraged me to test the regional approach that he was driving in the Netherlands – primarily around the Amsterdam region.

Thus, we sought a partnership with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, to focus our attention on Scotland’s biggest city. Our Netherlands friends continued to be helpful, hosting a visit from the Glaswegians and practical assistance to launch Scotland’s first circular city. And the rest you might say is ‘history’.

Cities are a big part of our future. The industrial revolution accelerated the growth of our major urban conurbations, and as we move further into the 21st century our cities again look to be developing as the hubs of where we live and work. Indeed forecasts suggest that by 2050 over two thirds of the world’s population will be urbanised.

Taking a cities and regions approach when it comes to accelerating the transition towards a circular economy and a zero waste society has many benefits in terms of impact. It also allows a focus on regional specialism – whether that be events or digital technology, maximising the opportunities in areas of strength and potential – which aren’t the same all over Scotland.  That’s one reason this week’s EU Green Week focuses on this issue, and why Zero Waste Scotland has been applying this thinking in Scotland.

Concentrating on smaller geographic areas provides a great testing ground for zero waste initiatives and circular business models. It also allows us to work with long-established regional partners who know their city inside-out – its needs, its potential, and who to talk to. That’s why at Zero Waste Scotland we are working closely with our Zero Waste Towns and Circular Cities and Regions to ensure we make the biggest impact we can to reach our goal of becoming waste-free.

We are currently funding four Circular Cities and Regions: Glasgow, Tayside, North-east Scotland and Edinburgh, with support from the European Regional Development Fund. Across each city and region, the project aims to open new revenue streams, increase competitive advantage, and realise financial savings.

Circular Glasgow has already worked some magic turning leftover bread into beer and also beer by-product back to bread by bringing bakeries and brewers together to identify successful collaborations.

This region is also focussing on the events industry and is currently reviewing ways in which to combat the waste created by the three million plus visitors who attend high profile events annually in Glasgow. Festival goers on average create more than one kilogram of waste per day. Circular Glasgow opened up the conversation internationally with the introduction of Circle Lab challenge to generate ideas from innovators around the world. They are now exploring new ways to make Glasgow a key sustainable events champion.

Scotland is at the cutting edge of developing a more circular economy. Later this year we will host the Circular Economy Hotspot Scotland, and showcase to an international audience how our cities, regions and businesses are already capitalising on the vast benefits of being circular and how they are finding untapped opportunities for innovation and increased profitability, whilst addressing the issue of resource pressures.

What has made our cities and region approach even more interesting is that is complements other local activity targeted at people who live in these areas. Our Zero Waste Town initiatives are really important pilot projects that allow us to test out different approaches, through community networks, that could help make the transition to a fully zero waste society. The aspiration is that one day all towns, cities and villages in Scotland will adopt zero waste principles, with the Zero Waste Town pilot projects right at the cutting edge.

We are currently supporting activity in Perth, Leith and Central Edinburgh, building on work in Dunbar and Bute. The programme of activity is distinctly differently in each area as it with the agenda shaped by the communities themselves. In Dunbar, great results were achieved in getting schools recycling. Virtually no waste was being recycled in the six local schools, who just needed an expert guiding hand to get systems set up. A 50% reduction to landfill was achieved within a year, and led to a great relationship with the Zero Waste Town team who went on to deliver some really ground-breaking waste education work involving role-play, animation and puppetry.

A key breakthrough for Dunbar was through re-use, with an initially small-scale re-use project consisting of a van and staff diverting re-usable items away from landfill at the local recycling centre eventually blossoming into a hugely successful and wildly popular re-use operation which has spread right across East Lothian. It has generated income that has allowed the project team to set up community interest company Miixer to carry on beyond the funded project, open two huge re-use hubs in Dunbar and Musselburgh and employ eight full-time staff.

Each new Zero Waste Town has ambitious plans in place to develop zero waste approaches to life and business in their communities, contributing to Scotland’s growing circular economy and generating new jobs locally.

Specific activities include pop-up food sharing shops (the SHRUB Swap and Re-use Hub, central Edinburgh); establishing a Zero Waste Business Charter and working with a local housing association to showcase re-use with a show home property (Changeworks, Leith); and establishing a city-wide re-use network to give retailers and residents better access to quality re-use goods (Zero Waste Perth consortium).

These fantastic examples of local and regional circular economy activity will provide the building blocks for Zero Waste Town models and Circular Cities, which will have elements that any town or city around the world could adopt. 

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