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Are the current Net Zero and Zero Waste targets obtainable?

Feb 16, 2022 | News, Waste Management

Over a decade ago, the Scottish Government set the first of two key targets to act on the climate emergency – to become a Zero Waste society reducing our waste output by 70% (based on 2011 levels) before 2025. In 2019, the second target was defined with the Government aiming for Scotland’s carbon emissions to become Net Zero by 2045. The targets have been criticised as being unrealistic and currently, we are not on track to meet either deadlines. 

Scotland's waste arisings by industry

The success of both campaigns correlates to the management of waste soil and stones. Ignoring this correlation is causing us to drift further from the 2025 and 2045 targets despite solutions being readily available and relatively simple to implement.


A Mucky Issue 

Construction, Demolition and Excavation (CDE) waste accounts for over half of Scotland’s waste arisings, 38% of which is soil in 2018. To meet the Government’s Zero Waste targets, it was concluded that overall waste must decrease by 15%. Between 2011 and 2018 this target was achieved only twice, in 2011 and 2012, when waste soil was at its lowest. From 2013 to 2018, when soil waste totalled above 3 million tonnes each year, the 15% reduction target was unobtainable.

Net Zero and Zero Waste targets are drawing ever closer and to achieve them the construction industry needs to radically rethink how they consume and dispose of resources. Every year approximately 4 million tonnes of waste soil and stones are generated by the construction industry and 1 million tonnes of this valuable resource still ends up in landfills. Out of the 3m tonnes that are instead ‘recycled’, the majority are actually only ‘recovered’ or at best ‘downcycled’, used to backfill redundant quarries and other vast voids in the ground. Both of these examples prematurely end the useful life of these scarce resources trapping high value material underground which has a significant carbon impact. This issue underpins Scotland’s ability to achieve its sustainability targets.

As much as 13% of materials that make their way onto building sites end up wasted due to poor management. Which is impacting the environment and for the companies over paying for materials that are never realised in their projects. These perfectly good materials end up in landfills or low value ‘downcycled’ applications. With increasing environmental targets becoming mandatory and tenders now frequently highlighting the necessity for environmental transparency, it’s essential for the construction industry to make a change in order to keep thriving. 

Between WM3 and WAC, hazardous and non-hazardous waste, it can feel like a minefield to classify waste and that’s before identifying somewhere to send it. The traditional reaction is anything that isn’t useful on site is disposed of in landfill. Plain and simple. More and clearer information is needed to highlight the options available to the industry, paving the way for a more sustainable future. Many main contractors do not know where their subcontractors get their materials from – this could mean they’re already hitting their environmental targets via use of recycled aggregates without realising what’s right under their noses (or in this case, in their foundations). 

This traditional mindset is already costing companies money in the form of landfill tax and the aggregates levy and with increasing pressure after events like COP26 it’s more than likely that the pressure will keep on piling up, squeezing away at the construction industry’s margins, until landfills and virgin materials are no longer a viable options. 


Getting Back on Track 

Get educated
A good recycling company will be able to advise you on the best ways to recycle and safely dispose of your waste. By becoming well informed, you will be able to ensure your waste can be reused or recycled safely and this will give it the best opportunity to be used for its highest value application. If you need any clarity, check out our FAQs page or call Brewster Bros on 01506 431 321. 

Find your nearest recycling business
For central Scotland get in touch with us. We ‘upcycle’ waste soil and stones into valuable washed sand and gravel products

Think of the whole supply chain
A typical building site will have several different sub contractors working on it. Where do your subcontractors get their resources from? They may already be practising sustainable resources management, lowering the waste and carbon impact of your project without the main contractor knowing. To maximise the environmental benefits of your project, you can stipulate in your tenders that any subcontractors need to meet certain sustainability standards or targets.

Understand the waste hierarchy
Where possible it is always best to prevent or reduce waste but if that isn’t possible, ensure it is passed on to the correct business or people who  reused or recycled. ‘Recovery’ isn’t recycling, it’s basically trapping valuable materials in sinkholes, losing them from our economy.

Waste Hierarchy

With the support of the construction industry, Net Zero and Zero Waste targets are obtainable. Simple changes will make a significant difference by safeguarding the environment whilst improving the longevity of your company – it makes business sense.