Scotland’s landfill ban ‘not achievable’

Concerns are emerging over waste material in Scotland being diverted to English landfills as a result of the Scottish Government’s ban on landfilling biodegradable waste from 2021. 

And, the likelihood of cross border movements comes amid a warning to the association for Scotland’s local authorities that it is “unlikely” councils will be able to meet the 2021 landfill ban.


Scotland’s councils could breach landfill regulations (picture: WRAP)

The update from COSLA – the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities – comes in a document for a meeting of the association’s environment and economy board this week.

The environment board is told that: “As it stands it seems unlikely that the 2021 ban will be fully achievable. Work on delivery and on possible solutions will continue with future reports to the Board likely.”

When contacted by, a spokesperson for COSLA said: “COSLA is working with all 32 councils and Scottish Government to develop an effective pathway towards the 2021 landfill ban for biodegradable municipal waste.”

COSLA says in the board document that it is working to establish a “realistic suite of options” that would enable all councils to meet the ban.


Indicating that the real question is around the development of non-landfill waste treatment solutions in Scotland, COSLA explained that it is involved in overseeing research commissioned by the Scottish Government to establish the capacity of the Scottish market to process waste after 2021. But, there have been wide ranging concerns that Scotland is behind in terms of infrastructure to take in the diverted waste.

“We want to be able to meet the 2021 ban and for Scottish Government implementation arrangements to be designed in such a way as to allow this to happen,” COSLA said.

(above) One facility developed by Viridor in Scotland is its Dunbar energy from waste facility which has now been completed.


RDF focus

It understood that there will be a big focus on RDF to replace waste which was previously destined for landfill, along with work to extract more materials from the feedstock. But, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has refused to disclose exporters of RDF to (see note below and in contrast to the Environment Agency in England) which wished to ascertain trends in the market.

However, one waste sector expert explained that currently a lot of RDF is exported from Scotland, and that there are also a number of domestic energy from waste facilities due to come online in the next few years.


SEPA has said that details of exports of RDF by Scottish companies cannot be divulged in contrast to transparency in England

Another Scottish industry expert estimated Scotland could be faced with almost a 1 million tonnes shortfall in waste treatment capacity from 2021. The Scottish Government is “pinning all hopes” on two options of sending material to energy from waste plants in England or more waste being exported as RDF, he said.

However, with the RDF market on the continent saturated, Brexit impacts, and plants in the North East of England operating at full capacity, waste material is likely to be sent to English landfills, incurring a higher price, the expert warned.

“The Scottish Government isn’t budging,” he said, despite the fact the ban has “no chance” of being met.


The ban on biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill from the 1 January 2021 is set out in the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012. Biodegradable waste is described as “any waste capable of undergoing anaerobic or aerobic decomposition such as food, garden waste, paper and cardboard”.

In 2017, 1.98 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste was sent to landfill in 2017, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has confirmed.

According to SEPA permits will be varied in advance of the commencement of the ban to prohibit landfill operators from accepting biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) for disposal at their landfill from 2021.

This means, at the landfill, BMW will be rejected and directed for alternative management.

Note: SEPA secrecy over RDF notifiers

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has declined to give out any details about companies which have notified it of exports of RDF from Scotland in contrast to transparency in terms of exports from England. In England the Environment Agency regularly publishes details of RDF exports and lists the companies involved.  SEPA said that the information could “prejudice substantially the commercial undertaking of the companies and impact on the relationships they have built and sustained with suppliers and partners in this small market.”

SEPA added: “To release the information could potentially disrupt ongoing business of those involved.”