Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are at the heart of the Government’s plans for economic growth, and a main plank of the sustainable resource agenda. For the 4.9 million SMEs operating in the UK, access to good recycling facilities and adequate costs are key concerns that need to be addressed.
More must be done to allow these organisations to manage their waste in closer accordance with the waste hierarchy, encouraging waste prevention, and thereby reducing the waste burden on this section of the economy.
SMEs face particular challenges when trying to make sustainable choices. The size of SMEs and a general lack of competition in the waste industry can act as barriers to original intentions to manage waste efficiently.
Furthermore, SMEs are in a unique position when it comes to their waste. Traditionally, there has been a tendency for waste to be treated according to its source rather than its content. In this sense, SMEs fall through the gap between large companies, which often produce larger and more homogenous waste, and more varied household waste, which is dealt with more specifically by local authorities.
So, what work can be done to ensure that SMEs receive adequate support in their waste management choices? If done properly, such benefits would include reduced overhead costs, and further reputational benefits by being ‘green’.
There is great potential in the commercial and industrial (C&I) waste sector; SMEs form a core part of this. The amount of recycled C&I waste is growing, illustrating demand for recycling services. A recent Defra survey indicated that the overall recycling rate of C&I waste was 52%, compared to a household waste recycling rate of 40%.
With this in mind, the Government has announced a £500,000 fund to help encourage the collection of food waste from small businesses and public sector buildings over the next three years.
Work in the European Union also reflects the importance of SMEs. The recent Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe states that policies are needed to remove barriers to greater resource efficiency, whilst providing a fair, flexible, predictable and coherent basis of business to operate.
Such unpredictability is the heart of the problem. There must be greater clarity and guidance for SMEs and the choices available to them in terms of their waste management. Echoing the Waste Review, I believe that government must work with local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and chambers of commerce to promote this awareness.
Furthermore, greater work with local councils, such as setting up amenity sites to offer services to small businesses, could be established as a means of encouraging and sustaining SMEs in local areas. Possible link-ups between larger businesses and SMEs, including local business involvement in supermarket take-back and recycling schemes, could save money and incentivise recycling in local businesses.
Small and medium sized enterprises must be encouraged and supported if they are to remain in operation, especially in difficult economic times. Ensuring that SMEs have better access to recycling services and implementing more targeted infrastructure will ensure that both small business and the environment reap rewards.
Barry Sheerman is MP for Huddersfield, and co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group and Chair of Urban Mines.