Susan Love, policy manager for the Federation of Small Businesses
The bag tax is a mere irritation compared to bigger waste changes on the way.
The Welsh Assembly introduced a bag levy in 2011, and a similar scheme was just introduced in Northern Ireland.
Our team at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) believes it likely the Scottish Government will soon follow suit, firming up measures trailed in their 2011 manifesto.
At some point in the next couple of years, retailers in Scotland will likely have to charge customers at least five pence for a single use bag.
Once they’ve deducted their costs, this cash will have to be regularly passed to good causes.
The bags don’t need to be plastic, single use paper bags will likely also be caught by the changes, though there are likely to be a range of complicated exceptions - such as those used for prescriptions and loose items (such as pet food) as well as unexpected inclusions, like those bags you get with your takeaway.
However, a previous assessment of a carrier bag levy proposal suggested that it will likely be the smallest non-food retailers, such as clothes boutiques and independent book and music shops, which will spend disproportionately more of their resources complying with rules, despite us all knowing and understanding that it is the big supermarkets that distribute the majority of the bags.
Plastic bags are a tiny part of the total amount of waste going to landfill and I remain to be convinced that this measure, which the civil service even recognises as ‘symbolic’, is really where we should be focussing our attention.
Rather more importantly, from 2014, all businesses in Scotland will have to start to comply with new rules which mean the vast majority will have to look to install new ways to sort, store and dispose of rubbish and recyclable materials. A majority of businesses, including retailers, are unaware of these changes.
Businesses who don’t want to be hit with fines and charges are going to have to do a lot of work to get up to speed with the changes.
While many of us are used to separating our waste at home, this is an alien concept in many workplaces, where affordable and easy-to-use recycling services have been harder for small firms to access.
Two out of every three Scottish small businesses currently pay their local authority for waste services. The volumes of waste they produce, historically, are likely to have been too small to attract the interest of commercial waste contractors.
These plans have been in place for some time and the FSB has been arguing for long enough that, if we want to make them work, we need councils to invest more in their non-domestic waste services, spending more time understanding the needs of their business communities and developing more suitable non-domestic facilities.
Similarly, we’ve been arguing that the very smallest businesses, especially those that are office based, should be allowed to use municipal waste facilities.
What might these new changes look like for the average Scottish small business?
From January 2014 the law will require your business to take all reasonable steps to recycle as much of that waste as possible.
Your business will have to present metal, plastic, glass, paper and card separately for collection and if you run a food business, which produces over 50 kg of food waste per week, you’ll have to separate this out as well.
Although there are a small number of exceptions, the fact is that these changes will have implications for virtually all Scottish businesses.
These changes are modelled on the assumption that many businesses will turn to private sector waste contractors to pick up their ‘rubbish’.
This means that all businesses will have to begin to think about how they’ll store and separate their waste without disturbing their business operations or causing an environmental or fire risk.
We’re also aware that there is a proportion of Scottish businesses that may be unwittingly breaking the law by using their home bins to dispose of business waste. Cash-strapped councils may start to take a very dim view of this and start doling out fines.
However, if you’re looking to get ahead of the game, it might be smart to do some research into waste collection contractors as soon as possible. If you get in touch with neighbouring businesses, you might be able collectively to negotiate a deal ahead of the new rules coming into force.
Today, Zero Waste Scotland is launching a new ‘Resource Commitment’ which, with the voluntary agreement of the waste management industry, should let small businesses know what they should be able to reasonably expect from their contractor.
It is a good place to start if you want to source a fair deal and a practical service.
The FSB believes that the bag levy should be binned until these new waste rules come into force. While the bag tax might hit the headlines, businesses need to make sure these big waste changes don’t cause a stink in their business.
Susan Love is Policy Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses