Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland

"LIKE SO many other people in lockdown, I’ve spent more time at home over the past few months than I’ve ever done before. I’m lucky to have a garden and a greenhouse in which I grow tomatoes. I usually have about 20 plants on the go. This year, however, I have seven. If my family had been relying on our own tomato harvest this summer to get by, we’d be in big trouble.

My crop has been poor because while I used to make my own compost, I’d started buying it instead for convenience. But in lockdown the shops shut as we all rightly followed public health advice to overcome Covid-19. Forced to use soil from my garden, I realised something was clearly missing as it didn’t provide the support seeds need to germinate. It made me more aware at a personal level of just how much we all depend on healthy soil and secure supply chains to survive.

The thin band of soil wrapped around the planet is not just vital for our survival because we need it to produce food. It’s also a natural carbon sink which helps to control our climate by absorbing emissions. Our soil is our carbon bank. And we’re in debt because we’re taking out much more than we’re paying in.

In addition, our wasteful attitude to food is symptomatic of our failure to value food properly and our neglect of our soils. To stop wasting food and ‘build back better’ as we emerge from lockdown we need to reconnect with the earth beneath our feet.

Food waste is a key cause of the climate emergency. It also costs us and our economy dearly. Each year in Scotland alone nearly a million tonnes of food and drink is wasted - losing the average household around £400 per year, while the hospitality industry loses an estimated £200million annually.

We need to do things differently.

Zero Waste Scotland has just published a new report setting out how to turn our waste into value and restore our soil, cutting emissions and costs, creating jobs and returning nutrients to the land to support a healthy planet and healthy populations.

There’s a bright future for Scottish agriculture with valuable opportunities for traditional farms to diversify and new entrepreneurs to pioneer a diverse range of sustainable options. These include growing legumes like peas and beans, cultivating microalgae from sunshine and carbon dioxide, and farming insects.

All of these bioeconomy businesses could provide a local, affordable supply of nutritious food and the new green jobs which local supply chains can create.

We’re confident that they will bring the change we need because our report is based on a global review of sustainable food systems and these ideas are already delivering results in other countries around the world.

To turn this vision into reality here in Scotland we need to change the way we think about food and everything else we produce and consume. Our agricultural sector is already working towards a low-carbon landscape through Farming for 1.5°, an expert group bringing together farmers, academics and food justice NGO, Nourish Scotland.

Last year Zero Waste Scotland launched Scotland’s Food Waste Reduction Action Plan with the Scottish Government setting out how we can reach our national target of cutting food waste by a third by 2025 as we move towards net-zero.

Back then many people thought it was impossible to kick our mass consumption habit. But coronavirus has shown that we can change our behaviour virtually overnight. We’ve proved that in the face of a global crisis we can do more differently.

The disruption to food supply chains as the hospitality sector shutdown created new distribution opportunities. We’ve connected producers and restaurants with redistribution organisations tackling food waste and food injustice to help deliver thousands of meals to those in greatest need through food banks and other community groups.

Such ‘disruptive’ thinking and action will be the hallmark of the transition to the sustainable, circular economy we need to recover from the pandemic and overcome the climate crisis.

As we start to emerge from lockdown all the talk is about building back better. People are discussing resilience, wellbeing and equality. Business opportunities from local supply chains for local resources.

They’re not calling this the circular economy. But that’s what it is. In simple terms the circular economy means reusing, repairing, remaking and recycling our limited resources to make things last.

Our food system is at the core of the circular economy. And the circular economy is at the heart of the green recovery.

The future isn’t about food waste. It’s about food value. We need to keep minerals in a loop of use by returning them to the soil to support a healthy population and a healthy planet.

We need to take care of our limited resources and distribute them fairly to get value from them again and again. That’s the circular economy.

But it doesn’t really matter what we call it. We just need to make it happen, fast."