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SMEs agree that plastic waste is a problem that needs to be dealt with

Neil DaviesWritten by Neil Davies, CEO Close Brothers Asset Finance 

Every quarter Close Brothers Asset Finance surveys around 1,000 SMEs across the UK and we recently asked about their views on plastic and what they were doing about it.  What we found is that there is close to unanimous agreement that plastic waste is a problem that needs to be dealt with.  Encouragingly, and typical of the SME community’s willingness to get on with finding solutions to problems, 63% of those polled said that they had initiatives in place to reduce the amount of plastic waste they generate. This falls – perhaps unsurprisingly – to 52% for companies with a turnover of under £250k; the larger the firm, both in terms of turnover and employee numbers, the more likely it is that they will have initiatives to limit plastic use.  Regionally, companies in the South West are behind the curve while those in the North East are leading the way. 

Alternatives to plastic 

Over half of firms surveyed have looked at alternatives to plastic in, for example, packaging. Pleasingly, with their reliance on plastic-based packaging to keep consumables fresh, the food and drinks sector being the most proactive of the sectors we polled. 

Again, the smaller companies are least likely to have investigated plastic substitutes, largely because of the lack of incentives in place. 

Overall 58% of respondents answered ‘no’ to the question ‘are there enough incentives in place for businesses to reduce the amount of plastic waste they use and produce?’. At 69% and 67% respectively, Wales and the South West are ahead of the national sentiment, with both regions asking for more to be offered. 

Reliance on plastic 

Across the UK, reliance on plastic varies depending on the industry the respondents represent, with Services apparently the least dependent. Food and drink, Manufacturing and Engineering top the sectors who need plastic the most.    

Q: On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), how reliant are you on plastic to ensure your products / services are effectively and safely packaged?

 

1 - Not at all

2

3

4

5 - Very

UK

18%

16%

28%

26%

12%

Services

34%

12%

28%

16%

11%

Construction

24%

14%

26%

25%

12%

Wholesale & distribution

20%

13%

30%

27%

10%

Print and Packaging

19%

27%

27%

27%

0%

Transport & Haulage

17%

23%

26%

27%

7%

Manufacturing

13%

17%

26%

26%

19%

Retail

13%

13%

32%

29%

13%

Engineering

12%

17%

25%

33%

13%

Food & Drink

7%

15%

35%

27%

17%

Recruitment

4%

20%

40%

28%

8%

Regulation and innovation

According to a recent report, the UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags given out by major retailers by 85% – down from 140 to 25 bags for the average person each year. 

But with around 8m tonnes of plastics entering the marine environment every year, UK SMEs are looking more and more towards innovation to solve the problem of excess plastic and focusing on introducing a ‘closed loop’ business. 

Here are a few examples of what some of our customers – and others - are doing to either reuse or repurpose the material. 

UNTHA have a range of shredding including a line of plastic shredders, which can transform bulky and oversize plastics – including 240 litre wheelie bins, 205 litre HDPE drums and LDPE buckets – into a <50mm particle size. The fraction is then granulated down to <12mm and washed before being resold into the international market. 

Businesses like Indigo Environmental then take the output and transform the complex material streams into reusable and resalable products. 

More and more niche areas are also developing within the recycling sector; for example, Manchip3Media was established by Toby Manchip only a few years and has today become the leading recycling company for the media industry, working with well-known media partners to ensure the best eco-friendly recycling or destruction service of a variety of tape formats from audio reels to high definition SR tapes. They also work closely in recycling plastics and keeping them out of the sea, backing ‘We Are The Oceans’ and ‘Sky’s Ocean Rescue’.

Then there are companies like HERU who are looking at how to convert the materials found in the home, such as paper and card, packaging, plastics, garden clippings and uneaten food into fuel for domestic heating applications using a well-known industrial heat treatment technique known as pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is a thermochemical decomposition process, which converts substances in the absence of oxygen into oil, synthesised gas (syngas) and char, with the temperature affecting the ratio and chemical composition of outputs. They are expecting the first units to be on sale in 2020.

The list is almost endless and includes using discarded plastic to create roads, shoes, street furniture and construction products.