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Waste Management

Reducing waste and maximising recycling is a priority for our store and distribution centre teams, driven not only by the environmental imperative, but also by the increasing costs of waste disposal.  We have made good progress over recent years, but, as we recycle more and more of our waste, it become more challenging to deliver annual efficiency gains. This year, we achieved a reduction in overall waste volumes of [ten] per cent year on year.

In our High Street stores, we operate a dry mix recycling system which enables the 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.  We have seen a slight increase in the amount of waste going to landfill year on year.  This is due, in part, to the clean sweep exercise we completed in the summer where we cleared a number of sites of non recyclable fixtures and fittings. Overall, the tonnes of waste recycled down year on year, impacted by reduced sales in some of our categories, and also initiatives to reduce the number of cardboard display units and signage used in store which has helped reduce overall waste volumes.

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 where waste management is handled by our landlords.

In our Travel business, we are working hard to minimise food waste. This is however a complex area, and we need to develop different strategies for chilled food versus ambient food.  For our chilled food lines, our focus has been on improving our forecasting to ensure that we only stock the chilled food that we expect to sell, therefore reducing waste volumes. As a result of these efforts, we have been able to achieve a four per cent reduction in chilled food waste, and we are targeting further reductions in the coming months.  We have also been trialling markdown strategies for our chilled food, again to reduce waste volumes as far as we can.  For the chilled food waste which cannot be avoided, we continue to look for ways to donate this to foodbanks and charities, however this is currently proving challenging due to the safety concerns associated with out-of-temperature or out-of-date chilled foods.  We are working with organisations like Fareshare to investigate solutions which would enable us to donate unsold chilled food to charity in the future.  For unsold ambient food, we are conducting a trial in our M&S Simply Food units, working with the social network, Neighbourly, to makes links to local charities and community organisations who can make use of this unsold food.  If this trial is successful, we would hope to roll this out to a wider range of stores.

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

Reducing the number of single-use plastic carrier bags we hand out 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 October 2015, a new 5p carrier bag levy was introduced in England, which meant that there are now 5p levies for carrier bags in place across the UK.  Since the carrier bag levies have been in place, we’ve seen a drop in the number of bags we’re giving out of around 30% - which is helping the environment, and also reducing costs. 

For the bags we do use, we have adopted a policy to donate the proceeds from the levy to good causes.  During the year, we have donated over £390,000 to our charity partners.  In our Travel business, this money goes to Shelter to support the charity’s vital work with individuals and families affected by homelessness.  In our High Street business, 25% of the carrier bag levy proceeds go to the Woodland Trust to fund their tree planting projects.  This funding takes the total number of tree planted as part of our partnership with the Woodland Trust to over 250,000 since 2010, meeting the target we had set.  The other 75% of the High Street carrier bag levy goes to the new WHSmith Community Fund, which makes grants to hundreds of customer-nominated schools and charities across the UK.  More than half the grants have gone to schools, with the other grants going to support a wide range of charities from local hospices, to brownie packs, and air ambulance services.  More information on the criteria for these grants is available at


Helping our customers to reduce waste

We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to recycle the products that we sell when they reach 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 nearly six tonnes of batteries for recycling.
We also operate a recycling scheme for inkjet cartridges, working alongside our suppliers. Profits from the recycling go to the Lord’s Taverners, the UK’s leading youth cricket and disability sports charity. In WHSmith own-brand inkjet cartridges, the interior packaging on the cartridge is compostable. This initiative reduces the environmental impact of this packaging, ensuring that it will degrade naturally.
In order to improve facilities for customers to recycle waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), we are members of the Distributor Takeback Scheme. The 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. WHSmith stores do not use large quantities of water, on average far less than an average household would use, however we are taking steps to ensure that we use this resource efficiently. Many of our stores have water meters in place to monitor the water we use and identify any possible savings. New stores and any store refurbishment work include water-saving sanitaryware as part of the specification.