Sainsbury’s boss argues case for greater ownership of waste

Sainsbury's CEO Justin King has cited a "misaligned" waste policy framework as one of the biggest barriers to retailers taking more steps to close the loop on their operations.

Speaking at a discussion event on the company’s 20×20 sustainability programme in London this morning, King spoke of the role organisations such as his could play in extracting greater value from their waste operations.

He said that an ever-changing policy landscape was not helpful in this regard and that waste was a “classic example” of government strategy and direction not being joined-up.

He pointed to the divergence in waste and recycling collection schemes operated by local authorities, saying it “completely undermined” any real potential for big retailers to make big gains in resource recovery.

King said his company was keen to take more ownership of waste streams, primarily those materials received through on-site bring banks, but had encountered a degree of hostility from councils on the issue.

“We are consulting with councils to take back control of our waste streams … this has not been welcomed with open arms,” he told delegates.

According to a source at Sainsbury’s, the retailer has written to every local authority to explore opportunities for upgrading and investing in more on-site recycling receptacles for its customers.

It is looking to work with councils to do this under an arrangement whereby the cost of better infrastructure is met by Sainsbury’s and tonnage data is shared with authorities free of charge so they can continue to claim recycling credits and meet waste reporting obligations.

In September the retailer announced it had teamed up with Palm Recycling, a provider of bring bank services, as well as Oxfam and Valpak, to take over management of recycling facilities at selected stores in partnership with councils.

Despite the fact this will reduce local authority costs associated with servicing and collecting material from the bring banks, edie understands that a minority of councils have expressed concerns over such moves.

These worries mainly centre around future ownership of materials, contractual arrangements and a conflict of interest over existing household kerbside collection schemes.

Steve Lee, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), was at the event and told edie that many of the major retailers now want to take direct control of their bring bank sites.

“If they want to take responsibility for these facilities and the materials and they can do it well then they should be allowed and encouraged to do so,” he said.

“However, are they missing an opportunity to work more collaboratively with the whole waste industry on this? Not just local authorities but waste contractors too,” he questioned.

Maxine Perella

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