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Key Implications of the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill

08 July 2024
The Scottish Parliament passed the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill on 26 June 2024. We take a look at the main features of the Bill and the key sectors affected.  


Devolved regulation continues to provide challenges and opportunities to businesses, consumers and public bodies alike. The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, whilst very well intentioned, looks is no different from its predecessor legislation.

The circular economy is an economic model designed to balance the production and consumption of materials and products with the concepts of sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling products and materials as long as possible in order to extend their lifecycle, thus minimising waste disposal. This is contrasted with the linear economic model, where materials and goods are bought, used and then thrown away.

The purpose of the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill is to introduce measures to facilitate the transition of Scotland's economy from the linear to circular model, as well as modernise Scotland's waste and recycling services.

The Bill seeks to achieve this by:

  • imposing a primary duty on Ministers to prepare a circular economy strategy for Scotland which they must have regard to in making and revising policy and legislation in Scotland;
  • enabling Ministers to impose statutory targets on the Scottish Government for the delivery of a circular economy through secondary legislation;
  • enabling Ministers, by secondary legislation, to prohibit or restrict the disposal of unsold consumer goods in order to prevent such goods from ending up in landfill;
  • enabling Ministers, by secondary legislation, to impose charges on single-use items to encourage the move towards use of reusable alternatives;
  • imposing a duty of care on householders and setting targets for local authorities regarding household waste and its recycling; and
  • expanding Local Authorities' enforcements powers, for example in relation to fly tipping and littering from a vehicle.

Who will this impact?

The far-reaching nature of the Bill will undoubtedly require significant adaptation across Scotland; impacting everyone from central and local government, small to large enterprises as well as households and individuals.

The Scottish Ministers will need to carefully consider their circular economy strategy, to ensure it fulfils the purposes of the Bill whilst providing as minimal disruption as reasonably possible. To achieve this, the Scottish Ministers will have to consult with as many appropriate persons and bodies as possible (as is required by the Bill), and to consider the key sectors which shall prove most influential in delivering the strategy. These consultations have been ongoing for a number of years and some areas are further ahead of the game than others, such as the proposed surcharge on single use cups.

Similarly, Local Authorities will have to give similar degrees of thought in how they will meet any statutory targets imposed upon them in relation to household waste collection. This change takes inspiration from the Welsh government's waste strategy, imposing a local target for waste collection (to recycle a minimum of 70% of waste by 2024-25), which may be a comparable marker for Scottish Local Authorities to consider. The administration of Local Authorities' enhanced monitoring and enforcement powers in regards to household waste requirement must also be planned effectively, given the ubiquitous nature of these.

Similarly, households will need to be aware of their new duty of care in regards to household waste, due to the ramifications of failing to discharge this stemming from Local Authorities' expanded enforcement powers. Any occupiers doubtful of the type of waste to be deposited into their respective bins should seek confirmation from the Local Authorities to avoid any action being taken against them.

The potential prohibition/restriction of the disposal of unsold consumer goods and the charges on single-use items permitted by the Bill will have significant impact on any manufacturers and retailers of such items, with the retail and hospitality sectors particularly affected.

If the ability to dispose of unsold stock is removed or diminished, companies will need to consider both proactive and reactive alternatives to this, such as a reduction in the order of stock or redistribution through secondary markets or external storage facilities.

To counteract any charges introduced on single-use items, the rising cost of living might deter companies on a simple price increase on such items. Instead, producing reusable alternatives and introducing reward schemes or discounts – such as those common within coffee chains – might be a more effective workaround.

Businesses could find themselves liable for the actions of their drivers as registered keepers of vehicles so will require to roll out training and employment policies regarding fly tipping and littering from vehicles.

We will only be able to ascertain the true impact of the Bill once we start to see the Scottish Government's Circular Economy Strategy and the secondary legislation contemplated by the Bill. It is likely to bring a significant shift in the economy, public life and our everyday lives in Scotland.

Local authorities and businesses should, therefore, plan ahead for the potential opportunities that implementation of the Bill will bring about as well as the restrictions it will impose.

DWF will be keeping a watchful eye on the roll out of the secondary legislation and the opportunity to help shape this. 

Please get in touch with us if you have any concerns about the potential impact of the legislation on your business and keep an eye out for further briefings as we begin to see the shape of the implementation of the Bill.

Further Reading