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Turning Plastic-Free: Growth Opportunities for SMEs

In a recent global survey by WWF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, small businesses worldwide were asked for their views on a proposed new global treaty aimed at addressing plastic pollution. The treaty, under development by the UN, seeks to regulate all aspects of the plastic life-cycle, from production to waste management.

Expected to be finalised later this year, discussions on its implementation have faced challenges in recent meetings, falling short of anticipated progress. As supporting nations gear up to enforce the treaty through legislative measures—such as setting targets for reducing plastic production and increasing recycling rates—businesses may encounter initial burdens such as new taxes, incentives, and disclosure requirements.

Despite potential challenges, the majority of surveyed MSMEs expressed overall support for the treaty, viewing it as a positive step. Many believe that any short-term costs associated with compliance—such as disclosing information, changing suppliers, or adopting new materials—will be outweighed by long-term benefits, including job creation in alternative materials, reuse, and recycling sectors.

In a parallel survey focusing on service providers and innovators in these fields, respondents generally anticipated net benefits from the treaty, with none expressing negative views.

However, concerns persist among MSMEs and environmental NGOs regarding the treaty's ability to ensure a fair and equitable transition. Access to finance remains a significant hurdle, exacerbated by recent global economic disruptions affecting both wealthy and developing markets.

A separate poll of UK-based SMEs by Manx Financial Group highlighted financial challenges, with disruptions reported due to financial constraints since 2020, and expectations of growth stagnation in 2024.

Three-quarters of the MSMEs surveyed by WWF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation emphasised the critical need for additional financial support to navigate the transition successfully. Industries like retail, logistics, and packaging distribution voiced particular apprehensions.

In advocating for MSMEs, WWF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have proposed specific policy measures for inclusion in the treaty negotiations, such as phased implementation of regulations and support for access to recycled plastics and alternative raw materials. They also suggest streamlined processes for MSMEs engaged in sustainable waste management, establishment of public-private partnerships for knowledge-sharing, allocation of R&D funding for alternative materials and recycling technologies, and collaboration with the finance sector to develop flexible financial instruments.

Marta Longhurst, global treaty manager at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, emphasised the pivotal role of MSMEs in realising the treaty's potential benefits. She highlighted the importance of ensuring that global regulations are implemented effectively and equitably to unlock opportunities across the plastics value chain and support MSMEs through the transition away from plastic pollution.

CAFA is committed to fostering significant transformation within the association sector. By empowering membership organisations to align with initiatives such as the proposed global treaty on plastic pollution, we help organisations to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future for all.



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