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Waste Management

Waste management

There has been increased interest in society’s approach to material use and waste reduction this year, in particular through heightened public awareness of the potential environmental impacts of single-use plastics. Waste is not only damaging to the environment but costly for our business, so we are focused on reducing waste and maximising reuse and recycling wherever we can. In our High Street stores, we operate a dry mix recycling system which enables our stores to recycle most forms of waste, including plastics and metals. Store teams receive regular updates and training to ensure that they are separating their waste correctly and maximising the amount of waste they recycle. Waste is also carefully separated in our distribution centres and offices, again to maximise the volumes which are recycled.

The total amount of waste generated this year has decreased slightly in comparison with 2016/17.  This slight decrease is predominantly due to greater efficiencies in the use of secondary packaging and the use of reusable skips rather than cardboard and non-reusable plastic. At the same time, the proportion of waste going to landfill has slightly increased this year to 13 per cent, partly as a result of increased flytipping and mixed contamination of waste disposal facilities outside our stores, and partly due to our refurbishment programme which has resulted in the need to dispose of some materials that cannot be recycled.

The waste recycling data we collect covers our distribution centres, offices and those High Street stores where WHSmith has direct control of the waste management contracts. For our High Street stores in shopping centres, recycling programmes are operated by our landlords. For these stores, we make some assumptions about the levels of recycling, so that our overall waste volumes reflect the waste managed in all of our High Street stores. We do not capture the waste recycling carried out in our Travel stores or in any of our international stores where waste management is handled by our landlords.

The number of food lines that we sell is growing, and eliminating food waste is a priority for our Travel business.  One of the main sources of food waste is from unsold sandwiches which have reached their use by date. We have implemented a number of initiatives over the past two years, including a new stock control system to improve forecasting and ordering of chilled food sales, so that we only stock the chilled food that we expect to sell, reducing waste volumes. We have also instigated changes in our markdown strategies for chilled food to reduce waste volumes as far as we can. This year we delivered a 28 per cent reduction in sandwich waste.

Reducing packaging

We regularly review our product packaging to minimise waste created by our own-brand products. Excessive packaging continues to be a concern for consumers and environmental stakeholders. We share this concern as unnecessary packaging represents a triple cost to our business: the cost of the packaging, paying for it to be transported to our distribution centres and stores and the waste disposal costs once the packaging is discarded.

Each year, we are required to report the quantity of the packaging we handle to the Environment Agency and ensure that a set percentage of this material has been recycled, through payment of a packaging levy. The majority of our consumer packaging is within our Stationery category and the buying team have an ongoing programme to work with our design team and our suppliers to improve the way we package our products.

Reducing carrier bags

Excessive packaging continues to be a concern for consumers and environmental stakeholders, and much of the heightened interest this year has been on single-use plastics. Packaging materials are designed to protect items to maintain quality and enhance product shelf life. But excessive packaging can negatively impact the environment, because energy and raw materials such as forestry products or oil are used in the manufacturing process. Plastic can also impact the air, land and marine environments when it is no longer needed.

It is important therefore that we reduce unnecessary packaging, both for environmental reasons, but also to minimise the cost impacts on our business which are three-fold: from the purchase price of the packaging itself, paying for it to be transported to our distribution centres and stores, and the waste disposal costs once the packaging is discarded. We regularly review the type and quantities of packaging over which we have some control, including primary packaging of our own-brand products and the secondary packaging used to protect goods during transit and distribution. We seek to identify opportunities to minimise packaging where possible, and use more environmentally-preferable solutions such as cardboard and reusable skips for internal transfer of stock.

Each year, we report the quantity of the packaging we handle to the Environment Agency and pay a packaging levy to fund the recovery and recycling of a set percentage of this material. The majority of this packaging is from food and drink products supplied by other major brands, where we have limited control over the materials and quantity of packaging used. However, a sizeable minority of packaging comes from our own-brand stationery goods and the buying team has an ongoing programme to work with our design team and our suppliers to improve the way we package our products.

Reducing the number of plastic carrier bags we give to customers has been a focus for many years, with our staff habitually asking customers whether they need a carrier bag and promoting the use of re-usable bags. In line with other retailers, we introduced a charge for single-use carrier bags when the carrier bag-levy was introduced in the UK, and since then we have introduced a Bag for Life into all of our High Street and Travel stores.

We have been heavily engaged with the government consultations this year on reform to packaging regulations and the introduction of a deposit return scheme which would enable retailers to take back plastic bottles for recycling once a customer has finished with them. This year we have removed all plastic stirrers, replaced plastic straws with compostable ones and introduced re-usable cups into our Coffee House coffee shops and office restaurants. We have also introduced a much wider range of refillable water bottles into most of our High Street and Travel stores.

Helping our customers to reduce waste

We want to make sure that any waste electrical equipment or batteries from the products we sell do not end up in landfill at the end of their lives. Collection points are in place in the majority of our stores for customers to recycle their old batteries and this year we have collected five tonnes of batteries for recycling.

In order to improve facilities for customers to recycle waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), we are members of the Distributor Takeback Scheme. This scheme provides funding for local authorities to enhance the WEEE takeback facilities in their civic amenity sites. We provide signage in-store which informs customers about the importance of recycling the valuable components within these products and directs them to their local civic amenity site with WEEE recycling capability.

Conserving water resources

Water resources are in increasingly high demand in many parts of the world and this trend looks likely to continue. In comparison with some other businesses, we do not use large quantities of water in our operations, only for employee use in our stores and offices. We continue to ensure that water use is managed responsibly and many of our stores have water meters in place to monitor the water we use and identify any possible savings. Our design specifications for new stores and store refurbishments include water-saving features for sanitary ware. We have very little control over the major component of our overall water footprint which comes from the water used by suppliers in the manufacture of the products that we sell.