How Plan A is plotting a path to zero waste

Marks & Spencer needs no plan B when it comes to resource efficiency - its latest business report makes for some enviable reading, as Maxine Perella finds out

Since implementing its Plan A sustainability charter four years ago, Marks & Spencer has reduced its waste by over a third and its recycling rate now stands at 94%.

Under Plan A, the retailer is working towards three key milestones on the waste front – to reuse and recycle all of its products and packaging, to send zero operational and construction waste to landfill, and to curb waste through the supply chain.

For each milestone, there are a series of commitments. On products and packaging, M&S aims to collect at least 70% of all clothing hangers it uses and reuse at least 85% of these by 2012. In 2010/11, it collected 152 million hangers – 67% of total usage – and reused 79% of them with the remainder recycled.

It also is involved in several consuming-facing initiatives and is striving to help customers recycle 20 million items of clothing each year by 2015. M&S has an ongoing partnership with Oxfam – a clothes exchange – which is now in its third year.

The initiative encourages customers to donate unwanted M&S clothing to Oxfam in exchange for a ‘£5 off £35’ discount voucher. The programme also hosted national wardrobe clear-out events in September 2010 and March 2011, both featuring celebrity donations.

More than 3 million garments have been collected in total and over 500,000 vouchers issued, helping Oxfam to raise around £3.3 million to support its development work. The retailer also donated around 300,000 damaged garments to Oxfam from its stores.

On the packaging front, M&S is working on a variety of schemes. One of these is to simplify its packaging materials and maximise use of recycled content where it is carbon-efficient by 2015. The retailer has virtually removed all PVC plastic from its food packaging and is now working to remove polystyrene as well.

The weight of non-glass packaging is also being looked at, with the aim to reduce it by 25% by 2012. Since 2006/7, the company has cut down by an average of 26% to 20g per item sold. Glass is also being replaced with lightweight PET on selected items such as pickles and 25cl wine bottles.

Zero waste to landfill is key to the strategy of Plan A – here M&S is looking at waste reduction as well; to decrease its operational waste by 25% and its construction waste by 50%.

One important element of this is the food waste which remains unsold in the stores. Over the past year, the retailer has recovered around 37% of unsold food based on sales value by selling short life products at a discount.

What can’t be sold will undergo some form of recycling, either composting or anaerobic digestion and M&S aims to ensure all food waste gets recovered in this way by 2012. As from this March, food waste from M&S cafes is now also being sent for recycling and a greater push on anaerobic digestion is planned for the coming months.

On the construction side, the company has reviewed its store design briefs and developed best practice guidelines for architects explaining how to minimise waste and incorporate more recycled materials. In 2010/11 M&S recycled 96% of its construction waste – up from an industry average of 65% in 2006/7.

As for the supply chain, a food supplier sustainability framework has been drawn up, which includes standards for reducing waste to landfill. The company says it has successfully trialled it with a small number of suppliers and plans to roll it out more widely over the coming months.

Plan A was launched in January 2007, setting out 100 sustainability commitments to achieve in five years. With a year to go until the completion of the first set of targets in 2012, so far 95 commitments have been achieved, 77 are on plan, seven are behind plan and one is on hold.

M&S has since been extended the plan to 180 commitments to achieve by 2015, with the ultimate goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer. Progress updates on all 180 of its commitments were released last week (9 June) with the publication of the company’s How We Do Business report.

Maxine Perella is editor of edieWaste

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