Reducing environmental impact has always been a challenge to small and medium sized companies (SMEs). With new environmental legislation set to put pressure on these SMEs to move to products and processes with a lower environmental impact, this challenge will no doubt increase over the coming years. A new survey conducted by SMILE Resource Exchange highlights businesses attitudes to waste disposal, and changing trends.
The landfill levy is set to rise even further this summer in a series of planned hikes, which will more than double the charge from its existing level at the start of 2011. However the survey has revealed that almost 60% of respondents were not aware of these increases, and the cost implications for their businesses. Now is the perfect time to look at business practices relating to waste disposal and make a change as the levy is scheduled to increase from €50 a tonne to €65 a tonne from July, followed by a further increase to €75 a tonne on June 1st 2013.
The SMILE survey, completed by over 100 businesses throughout Munster, indicates that SMEs are actively engaging in actions to reduce their environmental impact, with the majority of companies (92%) disposing of unwanted waste through recycling; although 48% also still sending quantities of waste to landfill. Just one respondent alarmingly said they send 100% of their waste to landfill, while the majority said they send just between 1 and 24% of waste to landfill.
When asked about the benefits of implementing environmentally friendly measures, the most quoted perceived benefit was ‘cost reduction’ closely followed by ‘waste minimisation’. Other responses include fostering a ‘better image among customers’, knowledge that they are ‘doing their bit for the environment’ and ‘increased efficiencies’. Michelle Green, Project Manager of SMILE Resource Exchange said “These responses clearly indicate that many of the survey participants hold positive attitudes towards the concept of improving environmental performance. Indeed, the above list of responses gives five very sound reasons to initiate the process of making environmental improvements in the small business setting.”
As well as recycling, there are various alternatives to sending waste to landfill – for example environmental opportunities such as upcycling and the reuse of resources. Upcycling is the process of converting unwanted materials or useless products into new materials or products, without degrading the material it is made from; as opposed to recycling, which generally involves breaking down the original material and making it into something else, using more energy. The good news is that 14% of survey respondents said they don’t send any waste to landfill anymore – instead reducing waste through these prevention measures, reusing materials within their own business and/ or making exchanges with other organisations.
The companies’ awareness of environmental opportunities was split between ‘fairly well informed’ (39%) and ‘not very well informed’ (38%). A very positive result is that a massive 82% said they would definitely consider upcycling to help reduce waste and associated costs; and 2/3 of these have ideas for products they would like to develop out of unwanted materials. These include specific furniture items, compostable waste, trailers, and harvesting and heating systems to name but a few.
When asked what items they could currently upcycle, responses included quantities of regular waste items such as styrofoam packaging, waste packaging, used carpet, used cardboard, old furniture, polystyrene boxes, plastics, timber pallets, metals, machinery, IT equipment, tyres and non-hazardous commercial waste to name a few. One of the more interesting responses was ‘irregular shaped eggs not suitable for sale in the shops’.
A number of respondents currently have a product that their business is making from unwanted materials; either unwanted materials generated from their own organisation or other organisations. These products being reused range from wood being the most commonly used, to everything from plastics, paper, cardboard, textiles to tyres, containers, metals, glass and furniture. Some more unusual products being reused include horse chestnut, pressed flowers, willow rods, computer components and 3D cinema glasses! These products are being reused, and the range of items being produced include furniture, bespoke bags and accessories, decorative items such as door stops, jewellery, arts, crafts and sculptures. On a more commercial level, items include rubber mulch, baled tyres, cellulose fibre insulation, and laptops.
Michelle commented “Environmental responsibility makes financial sense. What business would argue against cost efficiencies in a climate where budget cuts and competitive advantage dominate decision making? A growing number of companies are focusing on upcycling, although the trend is still in its infancy; and so, if upcycling is going to become mainstream, then the corporate world needs to see that it can be profitable, and this is what SMILE Resource Exchange is aiming to do.”
The business opportunities available through upcycling are not only relevant to manufacturers of durable products, but also to businesses in many other sectors, including retailers, providers of insurance, servicing/repairs, logistics and IT. Michelle added “The opportunities are endless, and upcycling is quickly becoming an industry in itself, one which has the potential to create a lot of jobs, on the basis that there will always be waste, and most people are willing to give away their waste, and that the only limiting factor in this equation is creativity. SMILE Resource Exchange is currently running a pilot to assist businesses who wish to, or have already, developed products from unwanted materials and looking for advice and support in this area. We would urge anyone wth a business idea or indeed a business who may have some interesting unwanted items that could be upcycled to contact us by visiting our website at www.smileexchange.ie or calling us at 026 20520.”