Official Statistics Publication for Scotland - Household waste summary (Jan-Dec 2020), waste landfilled in Scotland – 2020, and waste incinerated in Scotland – 2020 statistics

  07 December 2021
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) statisticians have published Official Statistics today (7 December 2021) which provide detail of Household Waste collected across all Local Authorities during 2020, as well as waste landfilled and incinerated in Scotland in 2020.
  • COVID impacts likely to be responsible for a 2.9 percentage point reduction in household recycling rates from 2019 to 42%
  • Household waste generated increased 0.3% to 2.4 million tonnes
  • Scottish household waste landfilled reduced by 13.0% to 660,000 tonnes
  • Carbon impact of household waste increased by 179,000 CO2 equivalent (TCO2e) (3.2%) in 2020
  • Carbon impact of household waste down 0.92 million tonnes TCO2e from 2011
  • Reduction of all waste landfilled in Scottish by 13.0% to 2.6 million tonnes
  • Increase of all waste incinerated in Scotland by 3.1% to 1.26 million tonnes

Household waste recycled and landfilled decreases

Scotland’s overall household waste recycling rate reduced from 44.9% to 42% from 2019, and 2.5 percentage points up from the 39.5% achieved in 2011. It is likely that COVID-19 impacts are the main driver behind this reduction.  The total amount of Scottish household waste recycled was 1.02 million tonnes, a decrease of 66,000 tonnes (6.1%) from 2019. 

There was a reduction in the amount of some waste materials recycled, such as construction and soils (reduction of 26,000 tonnes, 14.8%) and composting of vegetal wastes (reduction of 17,000 tonnes, 5.7%), while there was an increase in the amount of other waste materials recycled, such as such as glass wastes (15,000 tonnes, 14.4%) and plastic wastes (8.3%, 5,000 tonnes).

The amount of Scottish household waste landfilled in 2020 was 660,000 tonnes, a reduction of 98,000 tonnes (13.0%) from 2019, and a reduction 794,000 tonnes (54.6%) from 2011. This is the ninth consecutive decrease in household waste landfilled. This decrease is primarily due to more waste being diverted from landfill to incineration and in part less waste being generated.

For 2020, the total amount of Scottish household waste managed by other diversion from landfill was 748,000 tonnes, an increase of 171,000 tonnes (29.7%) from 2019 and an increase of 625,000 tonnes (508%) from 2011.  This includes waste incinerated, incinerator outputs recycled, and organic material recycled that does not meet quality standards.

2020 data reflects a continued downward trajectory since 2011 in Scotland’s household waste carbon impact. The carbon impact of Scottish household waste generated and managed in 2020 was 5.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (TCO2e), which is the equivalent to 1.07 TCO2e per person. This was an increase of 179,000 TCO2e from 2019, and a reduction of 0.92 million TCO2e since 2011. This is largely due to carbon impacts associated with an increase in the generation of household and similar wastes by 79,000 tonnes (5.9%) in 2020.

Data for every one of Scotland's 32 local authorities are available on SEPA's website.

Waste landfilled in Scotland sees continued reduction

The total quantity of waste landfilled in Scotland in 2020 was 2.6 million tonnes, a reduction of 390,000 tonnes (13.0%) from 2019 and a reduction of 4.4 million tonnes (62.9%) from 2005. This is the ninth consecutive reduction in waste landfilled across Scotland. This decrease is primarily due to more waste being diverted from landfill to incineration and in part less waste being generated.

Part of the reduction was largely due to less soils landfilled, which decreased by 340,000 tonnes (29.0%) from 2019.  This is likely a result of reduced construction activity in Scotland due to COVID-19 restrictions during the reporting period.

The waste landfilled in Scotland statistics are available on SEPA’s website

Waste incinerated in Scotland increases

The total quantity of waste incinerated in Scotland in 2020 was 1.26 million tonnes, an increase of 38,000 tonnes (3.1%) from 2019, and an increase of 855,000 tonnes (208%) from 2011. There was, however, a 15.3% reduction (75,000 tonnes) of wood waste incinerated, a likely impact of COVID-19 restrictions such as closure of household waste recycling centres and reduced construction activities during the reporting period.

The waste incinerated in Scotland statistics are available on SEPA’s website

SEPA Chief Executive Terry A'Hearn

SEPA Chief Executive Terry A'Hearn

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said:

“Last month, the world came to Glasgow to agree global action on the climate emergency.  The message was clear that together, as counties, companies, or communities – we all have a role to play.

“How we use resources in our homes, workplaces, public services and private sector can have a real impact on Scotland’s environment.  Whilst it’s positive that for a ninth consecutive year we see a move from landfill, the latest data does reflect the realism of the public health emergency.

“What’s important is not the past, but what we do next.  We’ve shown that by working together, we can rise to the challenge of a healthcare emergency.  We need now to show that we can do this again in tackling the climate crisis.”

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, added: 

“There’s little doubt the disruption caused by the COVID 19 pandemic hit recycling efforts in 2020. In particular, the closure of recycling centres in many areas seems to have had the greatest impact. 

“The good news is that the volume of materials collected for recycling at the kerbside increased, showing that there is a keen appetite to recycle more amongst householders. 

“There was a huge collective effort from local authority staff in all departments, as well as private sector resource management companies, to keep the show on the road during the strictest lockdowns, and periods of heavy staff absence. This hard work was very much appreciated by the public. Without all of these efforts, the recycling rate may have been more severely affected.  

Iain Gulland concluded, “As we move out of the initial shock to services caused by the pandemic, we need to redouble our collective efforts to increase the national recycling rate, with improved infrastructure and continued engagement with householders. 



An error was discovered in the household carbon metric (TCO2e) in the statistics after publication on Tuesday 7 December. The figure now quoted in this release and in the data products is correct and was amended on Thursday 9 December at 14.00.


  • Data on waste are collected to monitor policy effectiveness, and to support policy development, particularly commitments in the Scottish Government's Making Things Last - A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland. Further details on the methodology used to produce the figures are provided in the “Household waste” section of the annual Waste Data Quality Reports.
  • The figures are accurate at the time of publication; however data may be updated if further revisions are necessary. Normally these revisions will be published concurrent with the next official release.
  • The definition of household waste and clarification of what counts and what does not count towards the recycling rate is available in the Zero Waste Plan.
  • Official statistics are produced by professionally independent statistical staff in accordance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

A photograph of SEPA Chief Executive Terry A'Hearn can be downloaded at