Scottish Plan to Ban Biodegradable Waste from Landfill Postponed

United Kingdom

The Scottish Government has reluctantly pushed back the date from which the landfill of biodegradable municipal waste will be banned by four years, from 2021 to 2025. Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham cited slow progress from local councils and businesses as a key factor in postponing the ban.

The ban

The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 established a framework to meet Scotland’s zero waste targets. One of the goals was to ban landfill biodegradable municipal waste (biodegradable waste that comes from, or is similar to, waste created by households) from January 2021. An aim was to encourage use of the waste as a resource and reduce emissions (including the greenhouse gas, methane) generated by biodegradable waste in landfill.

Why delay?

As late as August 2019, the Scottish Government remained optimistic that the 2021 target could be upheld, despite warnings that it was not achievable. COSLA raised concerns that Scotland would not have the capacity to treat the volume of waste and that Scottish waste could potentially be transported to England to circumvent the ban. Ultimately, in September 2019 the Government confirmed that the implementation date of January 2021 was no longer possible.

The primary reason given was that local authorities and waste management contractors do not have the ability to meet the January 2021 deadline. Postponing the date to January 2025 would give them more time to comply. Although many businesses and local authorities had made significant progress, many still lagged behind and faced challenging conditions when it came to implement the ban.

Next steps

The Environment Secretary aims to establish a coordinated effort across Scotland to guide local authorities towards waste reduction, with encouragement being provided by prohibitive landfill taxes. She confirmed that she expected local authorities and the commercial sector to continue to make progress at pace.

Comment

The delay in implementation of the ban was seen by many in the waste management sector as inevitable. Too much progress in terms of infrastructure and processes was required to meet a ban in January 2021. The extra 4 years gives the Government more time to coordinate the necessary efforts, and to seek to ensure that the ban can be put into practice in 2025. This may be a welcome respite for businesses and local authorities dependent on landfill, as they now have over five years to prepare for the ban and implement waste management solutions. However, whilst the postponement may give temporary relief, the landfill gates are still expected to close to this waste. The need to invest in necessary alternative infrastructure therefore remains.

Article co-authored by Laura Craig.