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THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY BILL CONSULTATION – A COMMON WEAL RESPONSE

Overview —

A response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Circular Economy Bill.

Credits—

Craig Dalzell

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This report is Common Weal’s response to the Scottish Government’s primary consultation on their Circular Economy Bill. They have also consulted on creating a routemap towards the Circular Economy that this Bill would enable and which focuses on the management of waste within the Circular Economy. Common Weal has also contributed a response to that secondary consultation.

At the moment, the economy of the developed world runs on a Linear model whereby resources are extracted from the planet, processed into the economy and then discarded as “waste” often having only been used once. A recent study by Zero Waste Scotland estimated that only 5.9 per cent of identifiable material leaving the Scottish economy was recycled. A Circular Economy is a vital tool in combating the climate emergency as it will remove a major source of the emissions that have caused that emergency – namely, our growth- and consumer-based economy. Common Weal has published a full Circular Economy model as part of our Common Home Plan – a Green New Deal blueprint for Scotland. Contrary to mainstream political belief, the Circular Economy will not be achieved by simply diverting our current waste streams from landfill to recycling (especially if incineration in a waste-to-energy plant is considered to be “recycling” when it, in fact, merely converts solid plastic pollution into atmospheric pollution). This “single loop” approach to the Circular Economy is insufficient and misses the real social opportunity of a Circular Economy – to improve access to goods and services for people who can’t afford to keep up with the market economy “rat race” of growth-based consumerism.

A full treatment of Common Weal’s Circular Economy blueprint can be found in our Common Home Plan but in short it takes the form of nested loops of material use where a good is held in a particular loop for as long as possible before moving out to the next one.

These loops start with the principle of “Borrow/ lend or lease” rather than buying. Many people sharing one, high quality good (such as a professional grade power drill borrowed from a tool library) is more materially efficient than everyone buying a cheap good (if they can afford one at all) that is used only rarely and breaks easily. Goods should be designed to be reusable rather than single-use if at all possible (this includes packaging – retail supermarkets should be made to reduce packaging as much as possible as used to be common and is becoming increasingly common again).

Goods should be designed to be repairable and producers compelled to provide repairs or parts for as long as reasonably possible or, if they wish to withdraw from providing parts, they should open-source the ability to make repairs to others. One a good reaches the end of its viable lifespan even with repairs then it should be designed to be easily dismantled and its components remanufactured into new products. This principle can apply to make goods such as mobile phones where standardised chips can become new computers and standardised screws (rather than glue) can fix them together. It can also apply to goods as large as houses which can be dismantled and their bricks and timbers recovered for reconstruction into new buildings just as humans have done since time immemorial (only in recent decades have we designed our houses to go to landfill shortly after their mortgage has been paid off).

Only after this stage in the Circular Economy do we start to talk about “waste management” and even there the “waste” is often a valuable resource. Materials in this loop should be compostable – either at home or in community-level bioreactors. This includes waste food but also wood, organic materials and the bio-plastics that should replace fossil-fuel derived materials that we currently use. Anything that cannot be composted finally reaches the loop where we consider “recycling” – that is, breaking the material down and reforming it into a virgin source material for new goods to re- enter the first loop of the Circular Economy.

All of this is possible but it must be underpinned by a strong sense of Producer Responsibility. At the moment, there is a strong economic incentive for producers to not care about the impact their goods have on the world after they have been sold. The linear economy waste disposal stream is largely paid for by household Council Taxes when done properly and by the pollution of the commons when it is not (via littering or fly-tipping for example). Producers should be the ones who pay for the disposal of the waste their goods create and the fees paid should be high enough to incentivise the redesign of goods so that they do not produce that waste. Ultimately, nothing should enter or leave the Scottish economy without fitting in its proper place within the Circular Economy.

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