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SMEs welcome stronger plastic policies, even with increased costs

Research from the WWF and Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows small businesses want tighter regulations on waste streams, and are willing to pay the price. 

sprite plastic bottle on table

The study looked at 130 SMEs across the world, asking if they would support the introduction of a proposed new global treaty designed to tackle plastic pollution, covering all stages of the plastic life-cycle. This would have serious repercussions on everything from production to waste management. 

Two-thirds of the SMEs included, or 63%, agreed the treaty was a good thing, while the remainder – 37% – took a neutral stance on the matter. None objected outright to the idea. Awareness of the concept was also high, with 75% saying they knew about the initiative, before survey operators provided additional context. 

The figures support a previous survey that found 69% of SMEs anticipated benefits from tighter plastic regulations, and none viewed the idea negatively. Both studies are encouraging given the influence this section of the economy can have on policy and employment. Small and medium businesses account for around 70% of total global employment, falling to roughly 50% in OECD nations. 

As a result, SMEs are considered a priority in terms of many environmental issues, including pollution and emissions, but due to their large numbers and often limited resources have historically been difficult to reach, and progress among these firms is slow compared with larger conglomerates. This has been compounded by the pandemic.

A recent poll of 500 UK based small businesses by Manx Financial Group revealing one-in-three had paused or ended an are of operations since 2020, and one quarter expected growth to stagnate this year.

Meanwhile, the results from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and WWF research backed this up, with three-quarters of companies involved agreeing provision of finance would be crucial to their chances of transitioning and surviving. Retail, logistics and packaging distribution firms were most concerned. 

A number of specific policy measures to support SMEs have been tabled. These include: 

  • Any regulations should be implemented in phases, targeting large multinational corporations first and temporarily exempting MSMEs. Expansion timeframes should be clearly indicated and additional phases should be targeted.
  • MSMEs should be supported to access recycled plastics and/or alternative raw materials.
  • Governments should keep track of the availability of alternative and recycled materials.
  • The licencing and permitting process should be streamlined for MSMEs in sustainable waste management.
  • Public-private partnerships should be established for knowledge-sharing
  • Governments should set aside R&D funding for alternative materials and recycling technologies, considering priority technology and capacity gaps
  • Governments should work with the finance sector to promote the proliferation of innovative, flexible finance instruments for MSMEs and informal waste sector workers

‘A new global survey from WWF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has shown that a majority of SMEs would welcome the introduction of stronger policies to tackle plastic pollution, despite a potential increase in costs in the short-term. With the global treaty to tackle plastic pollution expected this year, it is hugely encouraging to see SMEs prepared to embrace the opportunities it presents,’ said Raffi Schieir, Director of Prevented Ocean Plastic. ‘SMEs have a hugely significant role to play in our transition away from virgin plastic production.

‘SMEs are, by nature, more adaptable to making changes within their business and supply chain than larger enterprises. They are showing the way forward, and I hope to see large FMCGs and corporations rising up to the standards they are setting,’ they continued. ‘There is also a growing number of smaller enterprises with ESG baked into their identity from the start. For these companies, making the transition is a natural fit. At Prevented Ocean Plastic, we know this because we are working with many pioneering SMEs, such as NEOWTR and Child’s Farm. We are also one ourselves! However, SMEs can’t do it alone. We need ambitious, unambiguous global policies, which can be applied in practice.’

More on pollution:

European wild boar found with five times ‘forever chemicals’ safe limit

Scottish construction crisis: 15 years of resources remain, circularity needed

Scottish construction crisis: 15 years of resources remain, circularity needed

Image: Nick Fewings

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