Launch Sort It
About Waste

Select a topic from the list below for more information.
  • What is waste?
  • Why is waste an issue?
  • What is being done about waste?
  • Reduce Reuse Recycle
What is waste?

Waste is what we dispose of because we no longer have a use for it. Waste includes materials that have no inherent value, but also materials that are disposed of despite the fact that they contain valuable resources and have not come to the end of their useful life.

Municipal solid waste (MSW) is defined as all of the solid waste collected by (or on behalf of) the local authority, which includes all solid waste produced by households and some from businesses. The portion of MSW that can be broken down by a natural process of decomposition is called biodegradable municipal waste (BMW). This includes materials such as food and garden waste, paper and cardboard.

Scotland currently produces around 12 million tonnes of waste each year, of which around 2.5 million tonnes is produced by households.

In 2003/2004, 85% of our MSW was disposed of to landfill, 12.3% was recycled and the remainder was used for the recovery of heat, power or other energy sources.

Please visit the Glossary for more definitions of waste related terms.
Why is waste an issue?

Most of our waste in Scotland is currently sent to landfill, which means that valuable resources are lost, including those involved in producing the things that we throw away. This is not a sustainable method of managing our waste in the long term, as the space available for landfill in Scotland is finite. Landfill sites are also a source of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. They can also pollute surface and ground water through the production of leachate, and cause problems with odour, vermin and flies.

The way that we manage our waste, including disposal, therefore has a direct and significant impact on our environment. There are also environmental impacts associated with making new products to replace the things that we dispose of, including extracting more resources, and the processes of manufacture and distribution. Living in a non-sustainable way impacts on future generations, as our lifestyles will affect the environmental quality and resources available for the future.
What is being done about waste?

In recent years there has been a general shift to give environmental issues greater importance, which is reflected by the development of a number of global environmental initiatives. This has also been driven by changes in legislation and public attitudes. In terms of waste, this has led to a focus on more sustainable waste management and a greater awareness of the resources we are throwing away.

The National Waste Strategy: Scotland (NWS), published in 1999, set out a framework for sustainable waste management in Scotland and marks a fundamental change in the way waste is managed. The National Waste Plan (2003) outlines how the NWS will be put into action and has been built around a major commitment of funding to transform Scotland's record on reduction, reuse, recycling, composting and recovery.

In order to move towards more sustainable waste management, Scotland needs to progress up the Waste Hierarchy. The Waste Hierarchy ranks our options for waste management in order of sustainability, or relative environmental benefits.

Although it is the least sustainable option with the worst effect on the environment, disposal to landfill is still the main method of waste management in Scotland. We need to increase rates of recycling and reuse to recover more value from our waste. Waste items can often be repaired and reused or recycled into new and useful products. Ultimately, the most sustainable option with the greatest environmental benefits is waste reduction at source. Minimising the amount of waste that we produce means that less waste has to be sent for reuse, recycling or disposal, thus minimising its environmental impact.
Reduce Reuse Recycle

Reducing, reusing and recycling your waste:
  • Saves the Earth’s natural resources.
  • Saves energy and reduces the risk of global warming.
  • Reduces the need for landfill.
There are a wide range of things that we can all do to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle more of our waste.  For example, you can reduce waste by composting your organic waste at home.  You can also reuse many household items by donating them to local charity shops or community groups.  Recycling facilities are becoming increasingly widely available across Scotland.  We can now recycle a range of materials, both at the kerbside and at recycling centres and points.  Many of these things involve only small changes that we can easily make to our daily lives.

An important part of these changes is to increase awareness among the general public of our waste as a resource. Waste Aware Scotland helps to do this through promotional and educational campaigns that encourage people to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. These campaigns help to develop changes in attitudes and behaviour towards waste, which are vital in helping Scotland to manage its waste in more sustainable ways and reach its targets for waste reduction and recycling.

Find out more about what you can do in the Reduce Reuse Recycle sections of this website. You can also find practical ways to take action at the local level on Sort It.
Text only version
Frequently Asked Questions
SWAG Vacancies
Site Map
Contact Us