From little acorns mighty oaks will grow
SME support is vital - not just for the local economy, but in keeping sustainable supply chains healthy, argues Beth Winkley
I was in the Welsh Valleys in March for the opening of BPI's new agricultural films facility in Rhymney. The plant is a great example of how - even in the current economic climate - the British reprocessing industry continues to strive.
It's also a wonderful illustration of the way in which the success of small and medium-sized businesses can have a knock-on effect further up the supply chain.
In the early 1990s the Birches were just another Welsh farming family, until a chance sighting of an advert in an agricultural magazine gave them the opportunity for diversification they'd been looking for. The family ended up becoming BPI's sole agent for agricultural plastics in Wales and Birch Farm Plastics was born.
Twenty years on and the business is run by the second generation - brother and sister Brian and Cheryl Birch - and it's because of their success that BPI now has a plant in Wales, whereas previously plastic film from Wales was reprocessed at its Scottish site.
WRAP has worked with Birch Farm, providing them with funding towards new equipment. They're one of a growing number of small and medium-sized businesses in Wales which have benefitted from our advice and support.
Our accelerating reprocessing infrastructure development (ARID) programme - which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government - is aimed at boosting the reprocessing sector in the areas of Wales which have the greatest need.
It provides capital funding for small and medium-sized businesses working with priority materials in Wales' convergence region - North West Wales, West Wales and the South Wales Valleys.
For me, the real beauty of the programme is its holistic approach. There is funding available for large-scale reprocessing infrastructure and for recycling collections - but there's also funding to help manufacturers use recycled materials in their products.
Stimulating this domestic market for high quality recyclate is essential if we are to grow Wales' reprocessing industry and feel the economic and environmental benefits this will bring.
Which is why - as well as providing capital funding towards the cost of switching to using recycled raw materials - WRAP has also been advising Welsh manufacturing SMEs on how they can adopt recycled materials in their products.
It's easy to underestimate the importance of small businesses to our economy. In Wales, over 99% of companies are SMEs and over 94% have fewer than 10 employees. It's these businesses which we need to support if we are to help generate jobs, economic growth - and the demand which will drive our reprocessing sector.
We've had a huge amount of interest in the latest round of funding for our large scale infrastructure fund. This provides SMEs with up to 40% of total eligible capital costs to support the development of reprocessing infrastructure which will add value to recycled materials and provide high quality raw materials for manufacturers.
We're also working with SMEs which provide recycling collections or bring sites for SMEs, with capital funding of up to £50,000 available.
Recycling and using recycled materials are all too often presented simply as a matter of being green, but as Birch Farm and other Welsh small businesses know, they can bring business benefits too.
Beth Winkley is head of WRAP Cymru