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Recycling Activities in SMEs: A Survey - WR1402

The challenges of regulatory engagement with SMEs

It is recognised that larger businesses are now much more ‘engaged’ with waste regulations and many have well-established management systems for ensuring that waste and recycling is effectively dealt with. Currently, however, there is a lack of evidence and insight into SME behaviour on these issues since:

- Gathering data can be difficult and is invariably expensive (a large number of small producers);
- SMEs (by definition) have limited capacity, management time is typically very scarce and the firm may not have the technical capacity/know-how to engage productively with researchers or policy-makers, or to work through trade associations;
- Influencing SMEs is often difficult since decision-making is likely to depend on the time/inclination/pressures on the owner-manager or small management team, decision-making processes may be unstructured and finding delivery channels for information is hard (accountants tend to emerge as one of the few trusted channels of communication).

As a result the issue of risk and non-compliance amongst SMEs has come increasingly to the fore. Consequently, regulators and policy-makers increasingly have to engage with SMEs, and face common challenges in understanding how SMEs make decisions and how to influence that process.

Rationale for this survey

Tackling commercial and industrial (C&I) waste production from England’s SMEs is a major undertaking. A curiosity of the UK’s waste management system is the way in which definitions in legislation and attendant recycling and recovery targets have resulted in more being known (within the waste policy ‘community’) about the UK’s household waste than its C&I waste. This is despite the fact that C&I waste is larger in volume and ought, in theory, to be more amenable to cost-effective management in accordance with the waste management hierarchy.

There is much to be learned about patterns of activity, influences and drivers of behaviour and strategies for engagement with SMEs. A particular issue for Defra and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee (EFRA) is to better understand how companies that are not registered with waste contractors are disposing of their waste.
This study helps to fill the gap in understanding about waste management and recycling practices in SMEs in England. The results provide a stepping stone to more in-depth and detailed work that may be undertaken in the future.
The research examines the waste and recycling activities of different sizes of SMEs in England, particularly those SMEs with four or fewer employees and sole traders, and to identify their preferred routes to meeting their legal requirement.
Defra’s objectives in commissioning this study were to:

- Establish the waste and recycling behaviours of SMEs based on business profile characteristics including size and sector. Produce evidence on the types and quantities of waste materials being recycled.

- Identify the current recycling and disposal routes used by SMEs and establish their satisfaction with them.

- Evaluate how the current economic climate, and possible further landfill restrictions, might have affected/will affect waste related activities for SMEs and determine the extent to which SMEs are seeking to minimise their future waste liabilities through the use of advice and support services.

It was anticipated that the study might also reveal market opportunities for waste collection and recycling from SMEs.
Project Documents
• Final Report : WR1402 "Recycling Activities in SMEs: A Survey" - Final Report   (2972k)
• Final Report : WR1402 "Recycling Activities in SMEs: A Survey" - Summary report   (217k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2009

To: 2010

Cost: £64,240
Contractor / Funded Organisations
GHK Consulting
Demolition Waste              
Environmental Protection              
Illegal Waste Activity              
Market Development and Intervention              
Producer Responsibility              
Residual Wastes Management              
SME Services              
Uncover market opportunities outside WRAP's remit              
Waste collection and handling systems              
Waste Management              
Fields of Study
Waste Management