During the first Covid lockdown, when I turned an old beer crate and some laminate flooring offcuts into a coffee table, it turned out that I wasn’t just another middle-aged man warding off pandemic worries about death and destitution through the use of power tools.

No, I was actually, it transpired, an up-cycler and part of the circular economy. I have never, before or since, been as fashionable.

Of course the concept of a circular economy – reusing materials, minimising waste and making things in a more sustainable way – isn’t new. It’s what we used to call “thrift”. And it’s something that small businesses have backed for years.

According to a Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) report back in 2021, 64% of small firms had increased recycling in their business and half had taken steps to eliminate waste wherever possible. Not only are they working hard to make changes in their businesses to minimise their environmental impact – they know it makes sound business sense as using less stuff costs less money.

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But the belated recognition that, as a species, we need to live within our planetary means has underlined and accelerated the need to ramp up efforts to make better use of resources.

That’s why MSPs were last week debating the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill – new legislation that will create duties around how you reduce and report on the waste in your business. The debate was also timely as the Scottish Government has just finished consulting on a draft “Route Map” that sets out how the Bill’s objectives might be delivered.

And this is the crucial bit because, as ever with this sort of legislation, it won’t deliver unless we properly evaluate how it will affect the daily operations of the small businesses that will be subject to it.

For example, consider the powers in the Bill to implement mandatory public reporting of waste (and indeed surpluses) in your business. In short, you’ll need to identify where the waste occurs and where it goes.

The Herald: Circular economy minister and Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna SlaterCircular economy minister and Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater (Image: PA)

The intention is for this initially to be applied to information about food, so if you’re in catering or other aspects of the hospitality or retail sectors, you’re going to be affected. The problem is we’re not yet quite sure how or what the scheme will look like.

Before the Scottish Government implements these measures, it would be wise to run a pilot scheme with smaller businesses to assess how the scheme will work in practice. What additional costs – from data collection to reporting tools to staff training – will these obligations entail? Are they proportionate? Could they be reduced?

At a time when FSB figures show that one in ten small business owners in Scotland already spend more than eight hours – a full working day – on regulatory compliance each week, we need to be careful about adding yet more red tape and taking them away from their core business.

The Bill also paves the way for charges on single-use items. This has been dubbed the “latte levy”, as disposable cups are first on the list.

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Again, nothing wrong in principle, but given that small firms will again be on the front line of this change, we need to know the details. For example, if we want to move away from single use products, government must ensure that businesses have ready access to alternative, affordable products that are comparable in price.

In all of this, we come back to the well-worn point that small businesses account for 98% of all businesses in Scotland, so any new regulations or regimes need to be designed around them.

But if you look at the plan's Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment, there’s no mention of small businesses’ views being sought. The draft route map has limited mention of support for small businesses and, while there are several references to funding that’s been allocated to Local Authorities, you’ll struggle to find any mention of funding support to help small businesses in particular to transition.

There are some truly exciting, not to say monumental, changes heading towards our economy in the years ahead.  But we’ll only see the real benefits if at the outset we design those changes to work in the real-world small business community we actually have.

Colin Borland is director of devolved nations for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)