Think global and act local – Scotland’s test case

Readers of this blog will surely know by now that I am all for a free economy and for non-restraint of trade: If, for example, some Scottish diners want to keep on reinventing local food traditions – deep-fried Mars bars at the local chippy – who am I, indeed who is anyone else to question the process.It’s a matter of consumer choice and consumer responsibility, another issue close to my heart.

But if, say, the Scottish Government should take up an enabling role; helping to trade-mark and export market the snack and define its proper specifications and then only permit Scottish-produced batter and Scottish-made Mars bars into the product mix – then we are clearly into some different territory.

Nearer to home, and back in July of this year I highlighted the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of that country’s waste management; in particular, the suggestion of a differentiated Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system for Scotland. The deadline for this response is 28th September and the Packaging Federation has already made its contribution to the debate.

It is right and proper that Scotland is putting clarity, direction and energy behind its process of governance – including the governance of waste management. Certain parts of Westminster today could do much worse – both for the quality of the consultation and for the matters raised.

It is also good that Scotland – in tandem with many leading recyclers and industrialists – now sees resources where it used to see ‘waste’. However a differentiated PRN system for Scotland is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice.

I have no need to rehearse protectionist arguments here: My main point is that today’s challenges of resource efficiency and material flows are evidently a global challenge not a Scottish one. To think otherwise is to invite chaos. Much of what is sold in Scotland is manufactured elsewhere and vice versa; including the importing and exporting of waste from within and without the United Kingdom.

Consequently, action which may be taken to specifically safeguard resources for the Scottish economy will fly in the face of the on-the-ground realities of material usage. Such intervention will then result in additional costs to businesses within Scotland and will carry no net benefit to the overall Scottish economy. Action taken to maximise the efficiency of material usage and the reuse of material at “end of life” is to be wholly commended but only as part of a coordinated policy within the UK as a whole.

The Scottish Government may be nurturing an idea that a bespoke system of waste administration may differentiate Scotland in a positive manner and may earn it a top spot in the league of recycling nations. In truth, this is a chimera. There is no such advantage and no such league. The realities of resource management are increasingly global. ‘Muck and Brass’, as it used to be, generally succeeds in finding its own level. In today’s parlance, ‘closed loop’ schemes and carbon footprints don’t care about origin or destination as long as the lowest and optimal numbers are reached.

The Scottish Government has already taken considerable steps to facilitate increased collection rates and recycling quality. These should now be allowed to proceed without further costly changes to the system.

The Packaging Federation believes that recycling success will be driven by unlocking the value of collected materials and by engagement of Scottish consumers. The impact of these is many times greater than the non-existent benefits from changing the existing PRN system. We hope that the Scottish Government takes the same view.

Many thanks

Dick Searle