Large group of people walking on a road

The average Scot gets through more than double the maximum amount of stuff experts say we need to live well and keep our planet healthy.

Iain Gulland, CEO, Zero Waste Scotland


Iain Gulland

Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland

That’s what we found in our latest research on how people across Scotland at work and home use everything from technology to food and clothing.  It pretty much sums up the main cause of the climate crisis in Scotland – we use up far too much stuff. 

Our study coincides with media reports that Amazon is sending brand new electronic goods to be destroyed because it's cheaper than keeping them in use. That shows just how broken the system is – and why we all need to change how we shop and do business. 

Our precious resources are running out – and our mass consumption habit is literally costing the Earth.

The good news is that more and more people want to do their bit to end the climate crisis. It’s not always clear how to go about it though. 

Many people think we need to fly less, drive electric vehicles instead of petrol or diesel, and switch from oil and gas power to wind and other renewables.  

And that all helps. But it doesn’t deal with the fact that most of the damage we’re doing is caused by everything we consume and throw out.  

Whenever we buy something new we use up more of our limited virgin materials to produce and deliver it.  

One of the biggest problems is that around half of all the stuff we consume is imported from overseas, from laptops to fruit and veg.  

We can change that by making better choices about everything we choose to use in our daily lives to stop trashing the planet without reducing our standard of living. 

Last week (June 16) Asda announced that it’s opening its first Scottish refill store this summer (August 2021) to help customers here reduce, reuse or recycle their supermarket packaging. 

Shoppers at the sustainability store can bring their own containers to fill up with common items including cereals, pasta, tea, coffee, toiletries and laundry products. Refills will include popular products from global retail giant Unilever, such as Persil. Crucially Asda has pledged that it will not charge shoppers more for choosing to buy greener, so more people can afford to play their part.  

Each box of cereal or tea, or bottle of shampoo or detergent, is traditionally used just once and then binned. That’s a huge waste of stuff whether plastic, cardboard or any other material that we barely even notice as this kind of packaging has become part of the product in our eyes. Recycling that packaging is better than throwing it in the general rubbish to go to landfill, but choosing reusable containers like boxes and bottles will do much, much more to help cut the amount of stuff we all get through. So, everyone who avoids needless packaging by refilling reusable containers instead is reducing the amount of stuff they get through. 

Asda and Unilever worked with Glasgow firm Beauty Kitchen to develop their refill stations, using expertise which the city start-up gained through pioneering its own ‘return,refill,repeat’ scheme with support from Zero Waste Scotland. 

Beauty Kitchen lets its own customers return their empties for everyday products like shampoo and moisturiser to be refilled and reused by other customers. 

We all need to eat of course, and Scotland boasts some fantastic produce to enjoy. But food waste is one of the greatest causes of the climate crisis. That’s because wasting food doesn’t just waste the food itself, it also wastes all the resources that went into producing and transporting that food. And if food ends up in landfill it rots to produce methane, which is one of the worst greenhouse gases behind the climate crisis. While there are problems with the way we use plastic, food waste is actually worse for the planet than plastic. 

Our Love Food Hate Waste programme has a range of tips to help everyone waste less food, from making a shopping list to tasty recipes for leftovers. 

One of the best ways to reduce the amount of other stuff you get through is to borrow or lease instead of buying. 

Scotland has a growing network of tool libraries lending people everything from DIY and gardening tools to musical instruments and even bouncy castles.  

You can also hire all kinds of everyday clothing from firms which we’ve supported including Sioda, which rents women’s clothing in Stirling, and Graceful Changes renting babywear in Edinburgh. 

If you have to buy something, then buying secondhand will cut the amount of stuff you consume because you’re buying something that already exists – so it doesn’t use up any more raw materials. 

Our own Revolve quality guarantee scheme for preloved goods is a great way to pick up a bargain which saves your pocket as well as the planet. 

Choosing refurbished computers and smart phones instead of buying new is another way we can all reduce the amount of materials that we use up when we buy things like tech.  

Everything I’ve suggested to help everyone consume less stuff is about making things last longer. That’s what’s known as the circular economy. 

It doesn’t really matter what we call it though, we just need to live by it so Scots and the planet both survive and thrive as we all get back on with life.