Edinburgh's response to climate crisis includes research on turning plastic waste into vanilla flavouring and banks offering green finance

Research showing how plastic waste can be turned into vanilla flavouring and a bank’s focus on offering green finance are among ambitious projects highlighted in an Edinburgh campaign responding to the COP26 climate summit in November.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 4:55 am

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Earlier this year scientists at Edinburgh University revealed how they used bacteria to transform polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – the strong lightweight plastic made from otherwise non-recyclable materials used for food and drink packaging – into high-value vanillin, which is widely used in the food industry.

The researchers say the vanillin produced from PET waste would be fit for human consumption, but further testing will be carried out.

Researchers at Edinburgh University have shown plastic waste can be transformed into vanilla flavouring

Around 50 million tonnes of PET waste is produced every year, with serious economic and environmental impacts.

But the scientists said the Edinburgh research was the first example of using a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical, which had “exciting implications for the circular economy" and challenged the perception of plastic as a problematic waste, showing it could be used as a new carbon resource from which high value products could be made.

Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce hailed the research as an example of the Capital’s contribution to safeguarding the environment, improving sustainability and reducing carbon emissions as preparations are stepped up for the summit in Glasgow.

The chamber has launched a website providing Information and support for Edinburgh businesses, residents and visitors on how they can help the Capital meet its target of net zero by 2030. It also highlights climate events and workshops taking place across the city in the run up to COP26 and offers resources and toolkits for businesses on reducing their emissions.

RBS is installing EV charging points at its Gogarburn HQ and offering green mortgages

The site also describes the initiatives being taken by the Royal Bank of Scotland, a principal partner at COP26, to reduce its own carbon footprint and help other businesses to do the same.

The bank has a goal of using only renewable electricity in its direct global operations by 2025 and has already achieved its interim target of 90 per cent renewable electricity coverage by 2020. Work is also underway to build a new EV charging network at RBS’s Gogarburn headquarters to make it easier for staff who need to travel to use electric vehicles.

But the bank has also committed to providing an additional £20 billion of funding for climate and sustainable finance between 2020 and 2022, on top of their position as one of the UK’s biggest providers of Green Bonds. A new series of “green mortgages” have been created for those who want to live in more energy-efficient properties.

And RBS’s award-winning Entrepreneur Accelerator programme, which has hubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow and is designed to help businesses grow and prosper, now reserves a quarter of all spaces for climate or green-focused small businesses and start-ups.

Chamber of commerce chief executive Liz McAreavey said: “If ever we needed a further wake up call to the danger posed by global warming and climate change, then the recent publication of the “Code Red for Humanity” report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spelled out the dangers in the starkest terms to us all.

“Scotland hosts the UN’s COP26 conference on climate change this year in a nod to the leadership our small nation is showing in tackling this most global of issues. A national target of achieving net zero carbon by 2045 is ambitious but is exceeded by Edinburgh’s aim to achieve net zero by 2030.

“It is heartening to see that our country and our capital is playing such a big role, and businesses are playing a prominent part in that effort. Our universities are the vanguard of research, our banks are helping drive environmental change by targeting green finance.

“Our infrastructure businesses are pivoting away from fossil fuels and leading the charge to renewable energy. Our farmers are moving to more sustainable practices and buying local will play a vital role in reducing the carbon footprint of our daily lives. Our construction companies are using innovative new building methods. Our shops, our hotels, our restaurants, our transport companies – all are doing all they can to make their impact on the world a better one.

“Businesses want to play their part in the changes we need. It makes sense for the world, and so it must make sense for business. Consumers want change – all the research shows that sustainability is increasingly a key driver for buying decisions. Ensuring we beat global warming isn’t down to anyone else, it is down to each and every one of us."

Council leader Adam McVey said the city’s transition to net zero by 2030 was key to ensuring a sustainable future for Scotland and the planet.

“As Scotland hosts COP26, the world’s eyes are on us, including Edinburgh as Scotland’s capital. We want to make sure this global event leaves a legacy of climate action across the city, and encourages residents, businesses, partners and visitors to continue to support Edinburgh meet its climate targets.”

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