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Zero Waste Scotland reveals the true size of Scotland’s raw material consumption footprint and calls for action to reduce it

Zero Waste Scotland publishes a new landmark report today, The Scottish Material Flow Accounts, that reveals the size of Scotland’s consumption footprint for the first time.

23 Jun 21

Hailed as an ‘insightful game-changer’ by environmental academics, the report shows the average Scot consumes 18.4 tonnes of materials every year – that’s the equivalent of 50kg per week on average.   

Academics agree that a sustainable level of material use, which would still allow for a high quality of life, is about eight tonnes per person per year.  

The analysis by Zero Waste Scotland quantifies Scotland’s material footprint for the first time. It shows us the materials we are extracting from Scotland’s natural environment every year, as well as those which are imported, exported, and wasted. 

The Scottish MFA report paints a picture of the scale and nature of Scotland’s consumption by calculating all the raw materials used to make products (e.g. oil and metal ores) and all the finished products we consume, whether made in Scotland or imported.   

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “What the MFA tell us is that consumption in Scotland is unsustainably high. This is, in part, due to the quantity of things we buy. We need a system wide change that enables us all to choose more sustainable ways to live, use the things we need and share resources.”   

Kimberley Pratt, Zero Waste Scotland environmental analyst and report author, added: “It is also due to the amounts of materials it takes to extract raw materials and manufacture new products. These processes are resource-intensive, but those costs are not obvious when we look only at the finished product. For example, 25 tonnes of iron ore must be mined to produce one tonne of iron which the average Scot might consume as steel in products such as the buildings we live and work in, cars and electrical appliances.    

“This highlights the negative environmental impacts of our production processes and consumption habits which favour using new goods made from virgin materials rather than re-used or repaired goods, or goods made from recycled materials or from remanufacturing.”     

The evidence of the Scottish MFA shows there is an inextricable relationship between what Scotland consumes and its global climate impact.    

With the current global political agenda focussed on accelerating a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of COP26 later this year in Glasgow, the report provides a base of evidence to help us rethink how we consume in Scotland.    

Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport Michael Matheson said:   

“The Scottish Government is committed to ending our contribution to climate change within a generation. To make that happen, we need to understand and reduce the impact of the products and materials we consume.   

“This is the first report of its kind for Scotland, and it will be a vital tool for engaging people in discussions on how we reduce the impact of our consumption. It is clear that the more materials we extract and use, the more damage we do to the climate and to nature.   

“That is why we are committed to building a circular economy in Scotland. By encouraging reuse, repair and recycling, and designing products to last as long as possible, we can reduce the demand for raw materials, and the emissions that come with them. We will be introducing a Circular Economy Bill to help support that transformation.”   

Mr Gulland added: “The MFA will be a valuable tool to inform new approaches that will deliver lasting, impactful change to the way we consume raw materials and play our part in tackling the climate crisis.    

“We know that a circular economy is one of the solutions as it promises to maximise value from the goods we already have in circulation while relieving pressure on finite natural materials, like oil and precious metals. Achieving that requires a joint effort from all sectors – from individuals to designers, industry, and governments – and can help us generate new opportunities for Scotland from inward investment to new, ‘green’ jobs.   

“Scotland’s buoyant re-use sector and our growing circular economy already provide us with more sustainable options to buy the things we really need.  I urge Scots and Scottish businesses to consume conscientiously. Let’s consider making changes to our buying habits in all walks of life to help rebuild an economy compatible with protecting the environment and tackling the climate emergency.”   

Zero Waste Scotland is tasked by the Scottish Government with accelerating the development of a circular economy, a system which makes things last by keeping resources circulating in a closed-loop economy. This differs from our current linear economy in which we simply take, make, and use products before throwing them away, sometimes after only one single use.   

The Scottish Material Flow Accounts is available on the Zero Waste Scotland website: https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/mfa

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Notes For Editors

The Scottish Material Flow Accounts report was written by Zero Waste Scotland with research support from Eunomia Research & Consultancy and peer reviewed by Queens University Belfast. The full technical report can be found here: https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/download/technical-report-material-flow-accounts-mfa. A summary report for policy makers can be found here: https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/download/introducing-scotlands-material-flow-accounts.

The Zero Waste Scotland Material Flow Account Data Visualisation tool can be found here: https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/mfa-tool. This tool allows users to access and compare trends in Scottish material flows with UK and EU figures. The full Scottish Material Flow Accounts for Scotland is also available on the Zero Waste Scotland website.   

Additional evidence from Zero Waste Scotland indicates that Scots consume 38% more materials than the global average and 44% more than the UK average, with each person responsible for the equivalent of 18.4 tonnes per year.  Our research found that this was partly due to Scotland’s colder climate and more rural population.    

Zero Waste Scotland research recently found that only 21% of Scottish residents felt fully aware of the negative impacts of our consumption of new products.  59% felt partially aware while 14% felt not aware at all.      

When asked how they could reduce the impacts of buying new, respondents said:    

  • Keep things for as long as possible – 37%
  • Recycle when finished – 18%
  • Buy second hand – 9%
  • Rent / borrow – 2%    

Tanzir Choudhury, Principal Consultant at Eunomia, said: “We were very pleased to carry out this work with Zero Waste Scotland. This is a highly detailed material flow accounting study, the first of its kind to be carried out by an individual UK nation, which will be of great benefit to Scotland’s pursuit of a circular economy.

“The advantage of this study that it not only looks at Scotland’s direct material footprint, but also its indirect material footprint, that is those materials used upstream to make products imported into Scotland. By being able to map material use and flows, understanding where footprints for materials are particularly high, Scotland will be able to make itself more resource-efficient and resilient to resource pressures brought about by climate change.”

One of the Decoupling Advisory Group collaborators, Professor Dave Reay, said: “Our group, made up of some the most pre-eminent environmental academics in the UK, made three categorical recommendations, those being: look beyond green growth, prioritise a well-being economy, and reduce Scotland’s consumption of natural resources, with the circular economy as a core principle.   

“This is the place we need to get to if we are to build a better future for ourselves in harmony with sustaining the environment and climate upon which we depend.      
 
“The MFAs provide us with the first level of understanding we need about our material consumption to help us on our journey to change our norms and create new solutions so, in that sense, it’s a game-changer for Scotland.”   
 
Terry A’Hearn, CEO of SEPA, said: “We recognise that as a society, we are over-using our planet’s resources. If everyone lived as we do in Scotland, we would need three planets to sustain ourselves. As we progress through the 21st century and beyond, only those nations that have developed ways to reduce their consumption of resources, and create little waste, will thrive.    
 
“A circular economy is a truly game-changing opportunity to manage resources within planetary limits, reduce the harms associated with waste management and create economic opportunities.   
 
“Zero Waste Scotland’s first Scottish Material Flow Accounts is a big step forward in helping us all understand where we need to target changes to make Scotland a one planet nation, and SEPA is committed to playing our part in making the circular economy a reality.”   

About Zero Waste Scotland    

Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change.      
 
Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy.      

We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund.   

More information on all Zero Waste Scotland’s programmes can be found at https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/. You can also keep up to date with the latest from Zero Waste Scotland via our social media channels - Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn   

The Scottish Government is the Managing Authority for the European Structural Funds 2014-20 Programme. For further information visit our website or follow @scotgovESIF.    

Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd    

Established in 2001, Eunomia Research & Consulting is an international environmental consultancy dedicated to adding value to organisations through the delivery of improved outcomes. Eunomia has over 100 employees, with offices in Bristol, London, Manchester, Brussels, Athens, New York and Auckland. Working throughout the UK, the EU and beyond, Eunomia’s consultants have experience and expertise in environmental, technical and commercial disciplines. Eunomia’s main service areas include:   

  • Waste management;   
  • Low carbon and renewable energy;   
  • Resource efficiency;  
  • Circular economy;  
  • Environmental economics and policy;  
  • Policy and programme evaluation;  
  • Marine planning;  
  • Sustainable future transport;  
  • Natural capital and ecosystem services; and  
  • Climate emergency strategy services.    

Eunomia is an appointed advisor to many types of organisations including central government, local and regional authorities, non-governmental organisations, charities, national utilities, health trusts, universities, global brands, manufacturers, retailers, waste management and technology companies, as well as global financial institutions.   

For more information about Eunomia, please visit www.eunomia.co.uk   

https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/mfa.

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