Environmental groups, volunteers and politicians are upset because the Scottish government has cut funding for community-based anti-waste schemes. They say this undermines the government’s aim of “zero waste”.
Although there has been a significant rise in the amount of waste being recycled in recent years, this has not led to a reduction in the 20 million tonnes of waste being produced every year. This is a problem, campaigners say, because preventing waste in the first place is more important.
In an attempt to combat the problem, the Scottish government agreed to fund a series of projects under a £7.5 million programme. One was Communities Reducing Excess Waste (CREW), which was run by Friends of the Earth Scotland, and was meant to run for three years from 2008.
The £200,000 project, which employed two staff and involved 55 volunteers, aimed to encourage communities to reduce their waste by avoiding excess packaging, reusing materials and buying less. But earlier this year its funding was suddenly cut, and its staff made redundant.
Two other waste projects have also been axed by ministers - one run by Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association and another by Instant Neighbour in Aberdeen. A third, the Ross-shire Waste Action Network (Rowan), is also said to have had its funding reduced.
According to Juliet Swann, head of projects and campaigns for Friends of the Earth Scotland, there was little understanding among MSPs about the difference between waste prevention and recycling. They debated the issue in the Scottish Parliament last week.
Recycling consumed energy and resources, and would never lead to zero waste, Ms Swann argued. “The more we’re recycling, the more we’re consuming,” she said.
“Cutting funding midway through projects, before communities can learn how to combat the barriers to reducing waste is counter-productive and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Ms Swann paid tribute to the staff and volunteers from the CREW project as “passionate and dedicated individuals who worked incredibly hard to try and communicate the message that recycling is not the be all and end all.”
More than 20 CREW volunteers have made written pleas in support of the project. Alison Roy from Glasgow said she was “devastated” that CREW was losing funding.
Andrew Guest from Edinburgh was “shocked and saddened” by the decision. “I can’t believe that CREW funding is being threatened at this crucial stage in the project,” said Jess Woodall, also from Edinburgh.
“To withdraw funding in the middle of the project, when there are so many exciting local and national plans underway, is ridiculous.”
The Labour MSP for Falkirk East, Cathy Peattie, described the CREW cutbacks as “very unsatisfactory”. Community development takes time “and this project was not allowed to develop its full potential,” she told the Sunday Herald.
“Government rhetoric needs to be reflected in practice. If communities are to participate in waste management, they need the resources and tools that will allow them to do so.”
The Scottish government said that the CREW project was closed because it failed to deliver on its target to divert more than 185 tonnes of waste from landfill sites. The government agency, Zero Waste Scotland “concluded that the project did not provide good value for public money,” according to a spokeswoman.
But Friends of the Earth Scotland said it was never told that funding depended on diverting waste from landfill. The project was conceived as a way of motivating behaviour change and had succeeded in doing that, the environmental group argued.
The Scottish government, however, pointed out that it was still supporting other projects aimed at minimising waste. “We strongly support waste prevention activities,” said the government spokeswoman.
“The Scottish government is developing a comprehensive waste prevention programme to be published by the end of the year. The final zero waste plan for Scotland is due to be published in early June.”