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Scottish businesses welcome zero waste recycling initiative - as long as it does not cost the earth

Small firms surveyed by the Forum of Private Business generally support the Scottish government's ‘zero waste' recycling plan for a cleaner, greener economy - but the scheme's critics are particularly concerned about how much they will have to spend in compliance costs.

The Forum has submitted evidence to the Scottish Rural Affairs Climate Change and Environment Committee inquiry into the zero-waste proposal – which the Government claims could help SMEs cut costs and increase profits.

In total, 47% of business owners on the Forum's Scotland member panel believe the scheme will have a ‘minimal' impact if adopted and 18% feel it will have a ‘positive' impact. Reasons cited included improving Scotland's standing overseas and a belief that the initiative could lead to greater investment in recycling facilities for businesses.

The Forum, which sits on Scotland's independent Regulatory Review Group, supports the Government's aims for better regulation and welcomes the publication of the draft Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) – as well as the decision to exempt small business from the food waste requirements until 2015.

However, the not-for-profit employer body is concerned that the BRIA has overestimated the cost benefits for small businesses – with Forum members surveyed fearing its net cost might be greater than anticipated.

Despite the Government's insistence that the scheme could mean bottom line savings, 24% of panellists are concerned about the costs they will incur, while 18% cited time issues, 13% additional red tape and 13% infrastructure problems.

Specific issues included the time and cost of having to use employees to sort the waste, that firms' infrastructures will not able to support the scheme and that recycling could exclude key waste items such as cardboard or carpets.

Further, according to the survey, some of Scotland's small businesses believe they are already effectively subsidising homeowners for domestic recycling at a time they can least afford it, with the risk that cash-strapped councils will spend the money on social policies.

Storage is also an issue - many firms feel that it would be cheaper and more effective to use a central recycling point.

"We found our Scottish members generally support the Government's zero waste recycling policy and understand the reasons for its introduction, with many feeling businesses have been lagging behind households in this area for some time," said the Forum's Head of Campaigns, Jane Bennett. 

"A number of respondents feel that businesses are behind in terms of recycling and believe they had a duty to protect the environment, meaning they are generally willing to bear the associated costs of implementing the policy – although not everyone shares that sentiment.

"There are certainly some concerns about the impact of the policy, particularly in terms of time and cost when it comes to compliance."

In previous research carried out by the Forum 74% of Scottish members surveyed felt the time spent complying with regulations has increased during the past two years.

Miss Bennett added: "What's quite clear is that the zero waste team must ensure the impact of the policy on small businesses is kept to a minimum.

"Small businesses are already snowed under by red tape and adding another layer may see support for the scheme wither and die. Any additional regulations must be carefully considered to ensure they do not harm economic growth.

In addition, with a number of panellists reporting that existing local business recycling facilities are oversubscribed, and that others have been closed due to cuts, sufficient recycling infrastructure for businesses must be in place before the policy is implemented in order that small firms do not struggle to comply with the legislation.  

Miss Bennett added: "It is the very smallest businesses that are impacted most by regulations such as these and as such they need additional time to become compliant. Yet we feel the BRIA only goes so far in estimating the impact on small firms.

"The cost benefits of the policy to businesses may have been overestimated, meaning that the net cost to businesses may be greater than anticipated. Additionally, as BRIAs have only been in place a short time, there is little data on their accuracy and they may not be able to predict unintended consequences."

Now the draft bill has been published the Forum is urging the Government to consult businesses more widely, particularly the smallest businesses that struggle most with additional regulations.

The Forum believes the zero waste strategy team must ensure any changes taking place during the implementation stage are properly communicated to firms - the draft plans include a number of online options to inform small firms, but appears to be lacking in terms of a helpline for businesses and television or leaflet marketing.

The Forum also believes the team must work with local authorities to ensure the scheme is rolled out smoothly, amid real concerns that many businesses do not have the necessary infrastructure to embrace recycling.

Finally, the Forum believes the Government should consider giving start-up firms a period of grace to comply with the rules and avoid being fined before they have been able to get to grips with their regulatory compliance requirements.  

"We believe the Government should consider giving start-up firms a period of grace to comply with the rules. The amount of red tape can confuse business owners that are just starting out and it can take them time to work out what compliance procedures need to be put in place," added Miss Bennett.

"We would not like to see young struggling firms handed fines due to issues with waste collection, therefore we feel they should be given a period of grace during the first few weeks of trading in order to get to grips with the rules."

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