The Scottish Government’s proposed Circular Economy Bill and new route map to a circular economy represent a historic opportunity to tackle a take, use and bin approach to items that still have life left in them. Too often items are disposed of not because they are broken or worn out but because the person who initially brought the item no longer needs it. In this situation, charity shops play an essential role in transferring goods from people who no longer want or need them to those who do whilst raising money for good causes in the process.

Tackling the climate crisis requires everyone to take practical steps to tackle emissions and reduce resource consumption. The good news is that buying second-hand items instead of new ones is one of the best ways of reducing emissions, reducing consumption of raw materials and diverting items away from landfill or incineration.

Charity shops act as local community reuse hubs giving vast numbers of used items a second life with a new owner. In the absence of charity shops, the volume of clothing sent to landfill or incineration would dramatically increase. Perhaps even double!

The Scottish Government’s proposal to prioritise the circular economy are welcome as is the particular focus on supporting reuse activity. One of the items under consideration is establishing a new circular economy public body which could help coordinate and support activities to increase rates of reuse and recycling. An advantage of such a public body is that it could play a major role in ensuring a joined-up approach between the public sector and the third sector that delivers the majority of reuse activity within Scotland.

Most online and high street retailers left with unsold excess stock already do the right thing and donate unsold stock to those that can make use of them. Many charity shops as a result of this generosity will have some brand new items on sale that were donated from high street retailers. However, it remains the case that a minority of businesses will spend money sending their new but unsold stock to landfill or incineration either due to a sense of convenience or to restrict their brand availability. To deal with this persistent problem, it is proposed that the upcoming Circular Economy Bill will include a ban on the destruction of brand new yet unsold stock. This is a very positive proposal which will help deter brands from producing excess stock as well as support the flow of items into the reuse economy.

Also, under consideration is work to measure the volume of reuse that takes place. This is important as often in terms of policy making it is only those areas that can be easily tracked and measured that are given support. Recycling targets have been present for decades now and have been key in securing support for recycling activity which has been a real positive. However, an unintended consequence of having targets for recycling but none for reuse is that in some cases recycling has been favoured over reuse despite reuse being the most favourable environmental option.

The Charity Retail Association will be responding to the two consultations and calling for an ambitious Circular Economy Bill and route map. Perhaps the most important point is that government at all levels needs to work in partnership with the third sector to boost reuse activity further. Charities have a well-established network of outlets, supported by voluntary action, through which items can be donated and then sold for reuse locally and should be central to plans to increase support for reuse activity.

If you would like to feed into the consultations, the deadline for responses is the 22nd of August 2022. Alternatively, you could feed in your views via the Charity Retail Association by emailing jonathan@charityretail.org.uk