In a little under two months, one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation in recent years will come into effect.
Passed by the Scottish Parliament in May last year, the Waste Regulations (Scotland) Act will mean that with few exceptions, all businesses will be asked to play their part in bringing about the vision of a ‘zero waste’ culture.
With effect from 1 January, all companies, be it a huge supermarket chain with hundreds of employees, a major industrial giant or a small family-run corner shop, will have to ensure that every effort is made to recycle paper, card, glass, plastics and metal.
Anybody producing more than 50kg of food a year will have to have a separate collection for that, with businesses with a smaller output being given a two-year grace period, although companies in more rural areas do not have to comply with that part of the legislation.
While much of the public focus on recycling is still on household collections and council recycling targets, in 2011, 2.6 million tonnes of waste were sent to landfill from households – compared to 4.5 million tonnes from commercial and industrial purposes and 6 million from construction and demolition.
So, since the legislation was passed, the race has been on to ensure the companies know that they need to comply – from agencies like the Scottish Government’s delivery agency Zero Waste Scotland and SEPA, which will be ensuring people meet the standards and will be able to issue “substantial” fines if they are not taking “all reasonable steps” to recycle.
In addition, under a duty of care clause, businesses will also be expected to ensure their chosen contractor deals with the uplifted recycling responsibly and train their staff to ensure a change of culture in the workplace.
But is the message getting through?
According to research from the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents the interest of about 19,000 members in Scotland, there has been a substantial change in awareness among businesses since the start of the year. In March, 72 per cent of companies still did not know about the new regulations. By October, this had been reduced to just 34 per cent.
Susan Love, FSB policy manager for Scotland, said this improvement showed that although there was still work to do, awareness campaigns had been effective.
She praised the work, particularly of Zero Waste Scotland, in getting the message across – although said it was in part down to pressure from the FSB.
She said: “Our key issue was small businesses need facilities that are practical, flexible and affordable.
“We’ve said that from an environmental legislation point of view, this is probably the biggest change to affect small businesses in a generation.
“A lot of environmental legislation tends to only affect certain sectors – chemicals, certain business practices. Most environmental legislation doesn’t touch the broad business base. This is really the first time that has happened for many years.
“Realistically, it is going to take time for all businesses to understand what they have to do and to comply with that. Everybody is realistic that not every business and household is going to be compliant on January 1 2014.”
Under the new regulations, from next year it will be an offence for businesses that without reasonable excuse fail to take reasonable steps to ensure separate collection of dry recyclable waste and food waste in non-rural areas.
From 2016, it will be an offence to fail to ensure food waste is not deposited in public drains or sewers.
Love said: “SEPA has spent a lot of time with local authorities thinking through what the problems might be that businesses are going to face and how they might deal with them.
“Overall, so far, there does seem to have been a fairly sensible approach taken to how we might deal with some of the problems that are going to arise. It remains to be seen what actually happens when inspections happen on the ground.”
Edinburgh-based company Vegware, which makes biodegradable food packaging such as coffee cups, napkins and cutlery, carried out research from five capital-based organisations and businesses to assess how they would be affected by the regulations and how they could benefit from an increase in recycling. Ranging from the small Cuckoo’s Bakery – which already recycles its cupcakes at the end of the day by donating them to charity – to St George’s School for Girls, the major concerns they had were related to the time recycling would take, and a perceived lack of space.
Vegware recycling consultant Eilidh Brunton said: “What we found with a lot of the businesses is they all said on their original questionnaire that they all thought recycling was important, within their businesses but they see barriers as to why they can’t do it.
“They were saying it fits well with their company’s ethos and they would like to recycle more – but they didn’t have the space. That’s why we went out there and said: ‘If you think creatively about the problem there are solutions to these issues’.”
All the businesses surveyed perceived there would be a cost increase, but Vegware’s research found there would be savings made straightaway with another making savings after an initial outlay.
With the example of the school, the cost of food waste collections would see a rise in costs – but it also found that getting rid of the macerators for disposing of food waste (which are barred under the new regulations) would cut hidden costs and the new recycling would help its eco-school status.
Simon Lloyd, who owns Henri’s, a food and wine merchant with two premises in Edinburgh, was one of those who took part in the Vegware research. Although his business does not have to comply with the food waste regulations until January 2016, he is aiming to be compliant by 2014.
He said: “On a personal level, I’m completely behind the legislation. I think it’s great. I think it’s good that Scotland, it seems, is leading the way in this.
“Like any legislation, it’s how is it being communicated to people. You can pass as much legislation as you like but if people on the ground aren’t behind it or don’t see the value in it or aren’t terrified of being prosecuted because they know if they do the wrong thing they’ll be fined, it’s not going to work.
“It’s the sort of thing that takes years to really bed in, it’s like not smoking in public places or these sorts of things, you can’t just flick a switch and overnight people comply.”
But Lloyd voiced concerns over the duty of care aspect of the legislation - as a business owner, he is responsible for ensuring that the waste service providers are dealing with the recycling they pick up appropriately.
He added: “Hopefully government in the interim period will be supportive if there are teething issues and won’t instantly come down on people like a ton of bricks.
“I would want everybody else to be taking it seriously not just a few of us.”
While small businesses have their part to play, the legislation is also aimed at larger corporations to reduce the amount of materials they send to landfill.
Robert Wiseman dairies, renamed Muller Wiseman after it was overtaken by German firm Muller in 2012, has been trying to move to zero waste for the last five years.
In 2008 the company, which has grown from a small operation based in East Kilbride to one of the largest milk suppliers in the UK, processing over 1.5 billion litres of milk, said that after a successful trial it was rolling out plans to eliminate the need to send any waste to landfill from any of its sites.
By identifying materials in the waste stream that could be recycled and installing recycling stations across its premises, it cut back the amount of waste it needed to have taken away, but also reduced the amount it was paying to waste handling firms and cut the company’s carbon footprint by diverting 98 per cent of solid waste from all its 19 sites.
Environment manager David Douglas said introducing the zero waste plan had meant a complete change of ethos in the company’s operations.
He said: “We had to establish the waste hierarchy in people’s minds to help change the perception of waste.
“We wanted staff to realise that waste and waste to landfill is not inevitable and that if we break the link between generating waste and sending it to landfill, we no longer have a waste, we have a valuable resource.
“We identified the behaviours we want to see in our colleagues - not only for reducing solid waste but waste of all kinds - and from that we developed a framework which enabled us to tackle the wrong behaviours.”
Using less water, energy, plastics, oil and creating less waste has seen a tangible benefit for the company and it will meet the January 2014 standards.
But Douglas added: “We will not stop there. We plan to divert all our waste from landfill by 2015 and through more training, we hope to achieve even better segregation, thereby reducing our residual waste even more and increasing the amount recycled on site.”
Douglas said that organisations such as Resource Efficient Scotland, a government-funded vehicle to help businesses meet the regulations and Scottish Enterprise, were among the organisations which had helped the company identify and put improved environmental practices in place.
Iain Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Around 80 per cent of waste produced in Scotland comes from businesses, so reducing this is really important and could provide huge economic benefits.
“Our research has shown that most businesses already recycle to some degree, so in many cases, the changes needed to comply will be simple – businesses should speak to their waste contractor to find out what options are available to them.
“Ultimately, we want it to be easy and natural for people to recycle wherever they are – in the home, at work, or on the go – and the new regulations will help drive this change.”