Encouraging the use of recycled content: REMake innovation vouchers for manufacturing SMEs in Wales
The REMake voucher scheme is providing support to manufacturing SMEs by allowing them to access external technical, business and innovation expertise to assess their company’s resource use and waste management. This article focuses on setting up an innovation vouchers scheme, more precisely on the REMake voucher experience in Wales, where emphasis was placed on increasing the use of recycled materials in manufacturing.
The REMake innovation voucher funding scheme was tested by public innovation agencies in France, Germany, Italy, UK (Wales) and Spain. In Wales, the scheme primarily focused on encouraging SMEs to optimally use secondary raw material in manufacturing, with the overall goal to improve eco-design in products, waste reduction and recovery of recyclable materials. Particular objectives were to reduce the amount of waste being sent to the landfill, reducing reliance on virgin materials, increasing innovation in products and sustainable packaging (including remanufacturing), stimulating new markets for substituting virgin with recycled materials, and increasing business profitability.
REMake in the UK was administered by WRAP Cymru. The vouchers were funded by EU-CIP and the Welsh government. Welsh beneficiaries of REMake vouchers were SMEs from the plastics, electronics, paper, packaging or textiles sector (fabricated metals, mechanical engineering, surface finishing/engineering activities were also considered).
The scheme was tested between July 2011 and October 2012. External technical and/or business and innovation experts were contracted for providing support to successful applicants.
REMake offered two distinct 100%-funded support vouchers for manufacturing businesses to hire external technical and/or business and innovation experts:Voucher 1- Assessment and Advice: Provision of technical advice and guidance for companies to incorporate or increase the use of recycled content in their products, processes or packaging. The voucher allowed up to £6,800, or 6 days, of technical advice. The consultants did site visits in production processes and produced a summary report with implementation plan (typically including a review of the current position, potential to increase recyclate use, identification of sources of input material, and potential cost savings/RoI or other benefits).Voucher 2 - Implementation Support: Provision of practical support, adapted to specific business needs. The voucher included up to £17,000, or 15 days, of hands-on support, with elements as in Voucher 1 plus personal counseling, customer support, quality and supply chain management and control, life cycle assessment.
The total cost of REMake in Wales the amounted to €4,156,000. More than €258,000 worth of voucher support was made available to 27 manufacturing SMEs (30 were originally planned). Approximately 40,000 SMEs in Wales were reached through awareness actions (e.g. weblinks, email campaigns, workshops, publications). The vouchers helped businesses undertake life cycle assessments, replace virgin materials with recycled content, recover valuable metals from the surface finishing process, and reduce materials wastage, water consumption and packaging costs. A rough estimation of overall impact achieved wis about €30–40m per year in combined resource savings (materials, energy and supplies) for the 345 companies supported in the entire European-wide REMake project.
Barriers for the REMake scheme in Wales were related to SMEs’ lack of awareness of resource efficiency (including available innovative clean technologies) and cost saving potential, opportunities for sharing good practice, enhancing the cooperation and networking across the supply chain. SMEs perceive a change in product specifications as risk, fearing supply chain hurdles, quality issues, i.e. having consistent supply of high-quality recyclates and increased costs.
REMake vouchers diminish risks for manufacturers as described above, while offsetting the capital cost of incorporating recycled content into products - helping businesses with an affordable kick-start to foster eco-design without cost implications.
The Maturity Level of the REMake vouchers is estimated to be 5 on the GML scale, as the concept was experimented locally and then implemented in full-scale. As a result of the success of the REMake voucher scheme in Wales, the Welsh government has ensured continuation of support to SME manufacturers in Wales by committing grant funding for the delivery of the “REMade” support project, in which experts are providing consultancy to assist businesses considering using recycled materials in their products. The project is funded from December 2012 to October 2014.