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Scottish Parliament Speech: Zero Waste Plan (May 2010)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

The Scottish Government's proposals for a simplified and coherent zero waste policy are essential. The goal should be twofold: first, to increase recycling and composting so that we reduce the waste that goes to landfill; secondly, to make recycling straightforward and easy. A Scandinavian friend who knows about such things told me that he had counted 76 types of recycling system available in today's Scotland. With his background, he is probably correct.

As any archaeologist will say, there is nothing so informative as a midden. From the rubbish of the castle of Dunadd, we know that in the middle of the dark ages the Celtic kings drank wine from Bordeaux and imported herbs from the eastern Mediterranean. We have enough sense to be historians ourselves and to note and understand how changes in our way of life have influenced the increase in waste and its control and handling. For instance, we should consider the impact of central heating. Those of us of a certain age remember how much was burned in the grate of the home fire. So many ways of recycling things - such as briquettes made out of newspapers - were devised and used to handle waste at home.

We must consider matters such as heating, large supermarkets, excessive packaging and the use of bottled instead of tap water. At any point along a Scottish road, it is possible to see a lorry running from Scotland to England carrying Highland Spring water passing a lorry loaded with Perrier water travelling to Scotland, which makes one wonder a bit about the progress of today's civilisation. Can such patterns be reversed?

How does the waste output change from the young to mature families, single people and the elderly? I recollect, as a young father in Germany, having huge quantities of waste to deal with because of used nappies. For the elderly, sadly, the same process tends to repeat itself. What are their requirements when it comes to recycling, and does landfill actually work? In a famous landfill case in Germany, a thoughtful council dug up its landfill site and discovered that, 20 years on, most newspapers, far from decaying, were still quite legible and that nappies were still intact.

There are different strategies for dealing with domestic waste, one of which is simply to avoid producing it. We have already heard about the amount of food that is thrown out - £1 billion-worth in Scotland alone, which amounts to an estimated £430 per household. People could be discouraged from two-for-one offers by having to think about whether they will use all the food, which might be beneficial in targeting avoidable food waste. Production should be shifted towards biodegradable and recyclable products - for example, biodegradable paper nappies would be as effective as nappies made out of cellulose, and we could ensure that all food containers are fully recyclable. We could have deposit systems for glass, plastic and metal drinking containers, which are very successful in Europe and increase recycling of some materials to more than 90 per cent. Consumers could be given cash penalties for not returning items, which would allow producers to curb wasteful packaging. Sellers could provide intake points for bottles.

We could also simplify matters by co-ordinating recycling across Scotland to prevent confusion among users and recycling companies and to reduce overall costs. As other EU countries have shown, it is more efficient and easier to collect in wide categories, such as paper and cardboard, organic waste, plastic and synthetic materials, and some metals. It can be difficult to separate manually different types of waste, but up-to-date recycling technologies can separate it automatically. After a certain time, the technologies pay for themselves.

Getting energy from waste raises the problems that Robin Harper pointed out, but burning need not necessarily be involved, because there are other methods of getting energy from waste, for example using forms of organic destruction that can yield useful by-products and energy. All that is useful, but let us remember, once we have dealt with our waste and rubbish, that the great power station of Longannet shoots 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air every year and is only 36 per cent efficient.

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