Exclusive: M&S unveils next level of Plan A waste ambition

Marks & Spencer is set to build on its zero waste achievements by targeting further reductions in operational and supply chain waste and exploiting more closed loop opportunities.

The retailer announced today (June 7) that it had become the UK’s first carbon-neutral major retailer, five years after embarking on its Plan A programme. Back in February it also reached zero waste to landfill status for its operational and construction streams.

According to M&S’ waste manager Mandy Keepax, the challenge for the company now is to examine how its waste arisings can be reduced further, both in-house and across its supply chain operations through greater engagement with staff and key stakeholders.

Speaking to edieWaste, Keepax said that since the launch of Plan A, M&S had reduced its waste by 31% (80,000 tonnes) – and that deeper analysis was now required to build on that figure going forward.

“One area we will be targeting closely over the next 12 months is our transit packaging – it’s one of the biggest opportunities where we can make a difference. We want to reduce this as well as the amount of packaging we have to remove from goods before they are put on the shelves,” she said.

M&S has already cut the amount of transit packaging it uses by 17%, through working more closely with its manufacturing suppliers and backhauling most of its materials. It is now seeking greater levels of reprocessor engagement to maximise recyclate value.

M&S’ head of Plan A delivery, Adam Elman, told edieWaste that the company is currently in discussions with its glass jar and wine bottle manufacturers to source and return higher quality levels of glass to them through better segregation methods at its stores and distribution centres.

“The mixed glass we collect from our stores we are looking to separate out and also remove the ceramics so the clear glass can be sent back direct. By returning more of this material to our manufacturers, it will help them reduce the energy usage of their furnaces,” he said.

Other closed loop initiatives M&S is involved in include the remanufacture of plastic waste into new carrier bags and transforming cardboard packaging into receptacles for segregated food waste collections.

The majority of food waste (89%) M&S generates is sent for energy recovery through anaerobic digestion and the company secures back some of that renewable output through power purchasing agreements. It sources 15% of its total energy use through energy-from-waste and other small-scale generation sites and is looking to increase that amount in the future.

On the product packaging front, the retailer revealed plans to undertake a series of in-depth studies with its food and general merchandise packaging suppliers to look at different technology options to cut down on waste material while ensuring product quality is maintained.

The company is currently piloting a special strip in fruit punnets to extend the product life of certain lines such as strawberries – it is these types of innovations that Elman is keen to pioneer.

“Food life extension is something we will continue to look at, where we can roll it out and drive scale. Another big challenge for us on packaging is to ensure that the materials we do use are able to be widely recycled,” he said.

Elman added that the revenue M&S now derives from its recycling activities, coupled with the avoidance of landfill cost and reduction in staff time associated with processing food waste, delivered an annual net benefit of £6.3m in 2011-12.

“We have saved a significant amount in logistical costs by backhauling most of our store waste to our 20 distribution centres. The only material we don’t backhaul yet is our bi-weekly collections of glass due to health and safety issues, but we are looking to address that very soon so we can take that back as well,” he said.

Maxine Perella

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