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41% of micro-SMEs 'illegally' dispose of recyclates in household waste route

A survey has found that 41% of small firms with four or fewer employees are 'illegally' using their household waste routes to dispose of recyclates.

Commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Recycling Activities in SMEs: A Survey found that larger companies are less likely to do this. Around 20% of SMEs employing 10 to 19 people are adding commercial and industrial recyclates to their household recyclates and fewer than 5% of firms with 20 or more employees do it. All firms with 100 or more workers recycle on-site.

Carried out by BMG Research and analysed by GHK Consulting, the study explains that the cause of this trend is low awareness levels within very small businesses, which do not realise or ignore the legal distinction between household and worksite recycling routes. Home-based SMEs were more likely to use their household recycling, not thinking it is illegal, while employees at firms with no recycling facilities were more likely to take waste home to recycle.It is thought this behaviour may have cost implications for local authorities.

GHK Consulting principal consultant and head of the low carbon economic development and technologies unit Jonathan Lonsdale said: "The findings were interesting for two reasons. It picked up on the usage of household routes, but also it was interesting that the driver for recycling for many firms was a result of environmental policy and wanting to reduce carbon emissions. This came through very strongly." 

A third of SMEs do not recycle, with most firms saying they do not generate enough recycling to justify it. Around 7% of firms said it would be too costly for the company.

Further findings revealed that just over a quarter of SMEs reuse or recycle their waste on-site. Industrial businesses are more likely to reuse or recycle on-site, with the highest rate (45%) in the chemical and non-metallic minerals sector and the lowest in the public administration and social work, and transport and storage sectors achieving 16% each. Most businesses that reuse and recycle on-site were found to reuse paper (44%), cardboard (51%) and plastics (56%) in the manufacturing process but wood was mainly burned rather than reused, recycled or composted.

The report identified one key barrier for small SMEs in that they do not have access to good-quality, cost-effective services. This is because materials reprocessors prefer segregated material streams which produce better quality material and so have a higher value, while SMEs prefer commingled collections that are seen to be less expensive. It is more expensive for reprocessors to sort the commingled materials, so this cost would be passed on to the SMEs.

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