Scotland powers ahead: How the circular economy has created investment opportunity within the renewable energy sector

It is fast approaching ten years since Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan was published in 2010, a plan that introduced aims of achieving a zero waste Scotland whereby no waste would be cast off to landfills. Waste that typically ends up at landfills cannot be reused, recycled or recovered, making disposal to landfill the least preferred option in the waste hierarchy. Through vigorous promotion of environmentally friendly policies, and the establishment of Zero Waste Scotland, a body created to provide streamlined delivery plans, business in Scotland’s waste management sector has been booming, resulting in proliferation of investment opportunity for forward-thinkers.

Robust waste regulations have gone as far as to place a duty of care upon all of those who produce, keep, import or manage waste. Such obligations require private sector businesses and public sector services to segregate recycling materials for separate collection and to ensure that all waste is transferred only to someone who is authorised to receive it. Certain duties extend even to householders, who could face enforcement action being taken against them if they fail to comply. These attempts to regulate exhibit the real drive towards further circular economy development, a key feature attributed to Scotland in which it is recognised as a ‘world leader’ in upholding, according to the World Economic Forum in 2017.

Push towards becoming zero waste to landfill certified is buttressed by the notion that reduction of waste ultimately leads to a reduction of costs for many businesses, a concept that has grabbed the attention of many. Whilst it prompts some to reconsider their consumption of raw materials, it convinces others to pinch their pennies by reducing the waste they send to landfill, in turn reducing their landfill tax payments. (Scottish Landfill Tax is required to be paid on all waste thrown to landfills, and with rates of £91.35 per tonne, businesses can incur quite the cost unless they are vigilant).

Overall, whilst the Scottish Government has seen renewables and climate action as an environmental obligation, it has also identified a great opportunity for innovation and investment. Within the waste-to-energy industry, a circular economy encourages value to be squeezed from residual waste that would typically end up at a landfill. Such facilities play a vital role in aiding Scotland’s manifesto, by taking the un-recyclable waste and converting it into clean energy sources. These processes have progressed to the point where energy from waste is no longer just about waste management, but also domestic energy security throughout the country.

Energy from waste is the result of forward-thinking companies getting their investment plans together, and utilising waste in a smarter, more innovative way. As a result, the renewable energy sector is growing at an immense rate. Investment in landfill diversion has been demonstrated by Viridor’s £154 million investment into Glasgow Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre in 2017. That has been closely followed by the investment by US energy giant Covanta Holding Corporation and Green Investment Group close on the Earls Gate Energy Centre at the beginning of 2019, leaving both parties with a 25% stake each in the development. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the investments made within the renewable energy sector, validating that opportunity does present itself within the Scottish market to transform waste from enemy to energy.
This article was co-authored by Nicola Kelly

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