Not just waste, this is M&S waste

Marks & Spencer has somewhat of a reputation for being a cut above the rest - this now applies to its waste management activities too.

Reducing waste is a key part of Marks & Spencer's Plan A - its list of ethical and environmental commitments that spans all areas of its business. With 711 stores across the UK and Republic of Ireland and over 65,000 employees, M&S wanted to significantly reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfill. From packaging and plastics, through to cardboard and food, the retailer wanted to find more sustainable solutions for its waste.

In April 2009, M&S' operations in the UK and Republic of Ireland recycled 41% of its waste. It has since set annual targets that increase incrementally - 75% by 2010, 90% by 2011 and 100% by 2012. To reach the 100% target, M&S needed to transform its waste management processes and chose to work in partnership with Severnside Recycling, a company with a long tradition of working in the retail sector, and one which importantly does not operate any landfill sites.

To kick off their relationship, Severnside undertook a waste and recycling audit of M&S' operations to understand what, where and how waste was being generated and disposed of. "This activity was critical for us to devise a strategy that would provide sustainable solutions and one that would be practical to implement at a day-to-day store level," recalls Tim Price, national commercial manager for Severnside.

"It was imperative to provide solutions that would not mean additional processes and time. With the detail from the waste audit we could understand which key materials to look at initially that would have the greatest impact."

Organics in the spotlight

One primary focus was organic waste. After cardboard, organics was the largest contributor to the retailer's total waste. As out-of-date food is required to be disposed of, an effective solution was required. "It was important to find a process that would allow organic waste to be separated from all other types of materials - enabling us to better capture cleaner dry material for recycling," explains Price.

To address the problem, Severnside - with its packaging parent company DS Smith and supported by Helistrat Management Services - rolled out a corrugated receptacle that could be used and would enable organic waste to be disposed of straight from the shelf.

"This box has enabled us to not only separate organic waste, but also significantly reduce our in-store processes," adds Mandy Keepax, head of facilities & waste at M&S. "Our operations team were soon converts as it made the process much simpler, cleaner and more efficient, reducing the time and effort to dispose of waste. From a management perspective, this is paramount - reducing rather than increasing time spent and enabling staff to concentrate on other important store activities such as customer service."

Bin capacity on the retailer's sites has been significantly reduced when compared with the pre-audit service to help reduce the overall waste budget. The new waste management process makes use of M&S' logistics operation and takes the waste to the regional distribution centres. "Using our existing logistics network embodies the essence of our Plan A commitments and is helping to reduce our carbon emissions by eliminating the need for store level waste collections, as well as reducing empty running of vehicles," maintains Keepax.

The back-hauled waste from each store goes to M&S distribution centres where it is collected, sorted and reprocessed by Severnside or its strategic partner, Shanks Waste Manage-ment. Strong emphasis has been placed on helping to maximise the sustainable performance of all M&S operations. Working with Severnside and Shanks, the retailer is committed to developing relationships with suppliers to enable the retailer to reuse its own waste through its procurement processes. Waste plastics are recycled into plastic bags for M&S, while packaging is recycled into packaging or tissue products, which are used or sold by the retailer. Organic waste is converted into renewable energy via biomass-to-energy plants. By 2012, this material will be processed via anaerobic digestion through Shanks.

Exceeding expectations
At a store level, recycling rates have exceeded expectations due to the simplification of processes that enable waste to be separated just once. This has been supported by a thorough communication programme, says Price. "We've set up a programme to explain how the system works, the benefits it will deliver and undertake meetings to iron out potential issues that arise. This is helped by M&S employees who support the Plan A ethos and embrace the processes that will deliver environmental change."

This approach has also delivered significant financial savings for the retailer. "We've not only managed to reduce waste management costs by handling all waste through our distribution centres rather than 711 stores, we're also protecting ourselves from the annual landfill tax rises," says Keepax.

Severnside has also started handling post-consumer food waste generated through M&S hospitality operations including cafés, in-store bakeries and restaurants. M&S will now turn its focus on finding ways to minimise waste arising at the outset. The waste audits conducted by Severnside provide greater visibility of the amount and types of waste still being generated. Now that many of the bigger wins have been achieved, finding sustainable solutions for the smaller ones - such as ceramics, glass and non-fibre office waste - is key.

"There is still much to be done, and we're not just focusing on how to recycle waste," says Price. "We're going to be helping M&S reduce levels of waste arising. This could include identifying more difficult to recycle materials and working with procurement teams to find alternative options. Taking a joined up approach to procurement and waste management decisions is critical moving forward. Achieving that magic zero waste to landfill figure is only going to happen if these two functions work hand in hand."

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