Letter from Roseanna Cunningham Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform


Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
Roseanna Cunningham MSP
T: 0300 244 4000
E: scottish.ministers@gov.scot

19 September 2019


Dear colleague
As you will know, the Scottish Government published a Waste Markets Study in April 2019 which examined Scotland’s readiness to deliver the forthcoming ban on biodegradable municipal waste to landfill from January 2021. Whilst this demonstrated significant progress towards the ban, it confirmed that both public and private sectors will not be fully compliant by 2021 without reliance on export options, including landfill in England.

Recent advice from the Committee on Climate Change reinforced the importance of reducing our reliance on landfill and the Scottish Government remains fully committed to ending the practice of sending biodegradable municipal waste to landfill in order to contribute to climate change targets and ensure Scotland’s waste is managed in a sustainable way.

I have carefully considered key issues and available evidence, the challenges faced by public and private sectors and the range of options available. In doing so, I have been provided with advice from a working group made up of public and private sector waste sector professionals, and we have also taken account of the views of wider stakeholders.

I acknowledge the significant progress made to date and, particularly, that a majority of local authorities and many commercial operators have long-term or interim solutions in place. However, I am extremely disappointed to note that others have not made sufficient progress, despite the ban being set in legislation in 2012. I also understand that there is significant potential domestic capacity in the pipeline to help deliver the ban, but not by January 2021.

My key consideration is to do what is right for Scotland’s – and the global – environment. The recent advice from the Committee on Climate Change reinforced the importance of reducing our reliance on landfill and I am clear that the destination must remain the same – we need to end the practice of sending biodegradable municipal waste to landfill.

Our approach to achieving this must reflect the spirit of the ban. I am concerned in particular about the additional environmental impact associated with sending significant volumes of Scotland’s residual waste, potentially over significant distances, to landfill in England. I am also mindful of the additional financial implications for local authorities of having to rely on export options.

Taking account of these factors, I am prepared to accept – very reluctantly – that an alternative, transitional approach is necessary; and that some commercial operators and a minority of local authorities need longer to achieve full compliance with the ban.

Therefore, I have agreed that full enforcement should be delayed until 2025 for both public and private sectors managing wastes covered by the ban. This timescale is in line with the broader advice provided by the Committee on Climate Change on action needed to meet net zero emissions targets. I expect local authorities and the commercial sector to make further progress at pace before the legislation needed to extend the deadline is made.

This decision has not been taken lightly and I am extremely disappointed that more progress has not been made to date. As such, I should stress that I want to see evidence of continuing progress towards achieving full compliance over the period between now and 2025. It would be totally unacceptable to see action deferred to create another pressure point as we approach 2025.

In order to support progress, I have concluded there should be a positive, centrally co-ordinated intervention to help the remaining local authorities procure solutions for the remaining tonnage of waste that provide the necessary contract length to support investment. Any such approach should be Local Government led (i.e. driven by local authorities without existing solutions who would retain formal responsibility for securing alternative treatment solutions for the waste arising in their areas) and supported by the Scottish Government, where appropriate. My officials will be working during the coming months to ensure that this moves forward as swiftly as possible.

I am also looking to the commercial sector in particular to respond to remaining challenges and for sector representative bodies to provide necessary leadership, to continue to actively contribute to national and local delivery planning and to help facilitate any practical support needed to secure full compliance.
In relation to future delivery plans, I wish to reinforce the importance of reducing waste and increasing recycling. These provide the best solutions in line with the waste hierarchy and will reduce reliance on solutions further down the hierarchy, such as energy from waste.

It is important that there should be a financial incentive to complying with the ban as soon as possible. In that regard, Scottish Landfill Tax will be used to provide a further incentive to ensure that transitional work proceeds at the necessary pace. The precise profiling of changes will need careful consideration so as not to provide an incentive for landfilling in England.

We will continue to work closely with key partners and will bring forward detailed proposals for this transitional approach in due course. Finally, I want to reiterate the importance of further progress at pace and my expectation that all partners will play their full part in order to help end Scotland’s contribution to the global climate emergency. To this end, I intend to establish a Programme Board comprising senior leaders and waste management professionals across public and commercial sectors, who will be tasked with overseeing progress from this point and driving forward the necessary measures to ensure full compliance with the ban by 2025. The board will report to me at regular intervals.

If you have questions about the detail of this letter, please contact Janet McVea, Head of Zero Waste Unit in the first instance at eqce.cezw@gov.scot.

Yours faithfully
Roseanna Cunningham

Scottish Ministers, special advisers and the Permanent Secretary are covered by the terms of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016. See www.lobbying.scot
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