The interior of a retail store selling home accessories.

Eight ways to reduce waste in the retail sector

Environmental sustainability is a pressing concern, and businesses across most industries are actively seeking ways to reduce waste and minimise their ecological footprint.

The retail sector must play a significant role in adopting sustainable practices due to its large-scale operations and consumption rate.

Retail waste can encompass everything from unsold products to packaging materials, and waste causes and streams vary significantly between businesses.

With increasing consumer awareness and demand for eco-friendly practices, implementing waste reduction strategies in retail has become more critical than ever.

Let’s look at eight practical methods for retailers to reduce waste and promote sustainability, starting with the logical step of a waste audit.

1.      Conduct a retail waste audit

You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know all the details. Start your retail waste reduction journey by carrying out a waste audit.

If you have space on your premises, collect all the waste your retail store produces over one week and categorise it by waste stream.

Alternatively, create a spreadsheet and detail every piece of waste produced over the week, its origins (the stockroom, the shop floor, the staff room, etc.), and which category it falls into.

The categories for your commercial waste should be general waste, mixed recycling (paper, cardboard, drinks cans, food tins, and plastic), glass waste, paper cups, and food waste.

If you have numerous stores, you’ll need some help with this task, but the results will be worth the effort.

If you’re based in Yorkshire and would like us to conduct a waste audit on your behalf, contact our friendly customer service team. The audit results will highlight where your business is producing the most waste and what that waste is, so you’ll know where to get started with your waste reduction plan.

If plastic waste is a severe concern, read our blog post on reducing plastic waste in a business setting. We also have an article on office waste reduction you might find helpful.

2.      Create a recycling policy

Your next step is to create a comprehensive retail recycling policy based on your collected data. Consider each waste stream and how your business can reduce the amount it creates.

For example, if your waste audit showed that you’re creating a lot of paper waste in your shop’s office, what rules can you implement to reduce it?

Pay attention to every piece of waste produced — even small changes can make a big difference.

Finalise your rules and draw up your recycling policy.

3.      Educate your team

You may be keen to make environmental changes in the workplace, but you’ll fall at the first hurdle if your team isn’t on board.

Book a meeting with your staff to discuss the importance of retail waste reduction and recycling, letting them know how passionate you are about it.

Outline the key points of the new recycling policy.

Leave time for questions at the end of your presentation so everyone knows what steps they need to take regarding retail waste at work.

Ensure everyone has read and understood the policy and remember to make it available to all new employees. Consider publishing your retail recycling policy on your website, so your customers can see how seriously you take sustainability.

If some employees resist the new changes, consider incentivising their efforts until the new way of working becomes second nature.

4.      Work with sustainable suppliers

Working with suitable suppliers is vital when navigating the reduction of retail waste.

Talk to your current suppliers about your retail waste and recycling efforts. Find out where each supplier sources your products and how they are transported and packaged.

Suppliers will be keen to keep your business, but if they don’t meet your standards or share your principles, then search for another who does.

Ensure any new suppliers will provide stock with minimal recyclable or no packaging.

5.      Control your stock

Poor stock management often leads to excess waste — especially for retail stores that stock fresh food or products with short shelf lives.

To reduce waste, you must always know what you have in stock, what you need, and when to order it.

Overordering is unsustainable and will hurt your profits, too, so don’t overorder.

A woman browsing in an electronics store.
A woman looking at products in an electronics store

6.      Discount damaged products

Products and packaging can easily be damaged, but that shouldn’t mean they head straight to a landfill site.

If you used to bin damaged products, then now’s the time to consider alternative uses.

Staff might like to buy damaged products at a discount. Alternatively, offer your customers the items at a discount or consider donating them to charity.

7.      Incentivise reusable shopping bags

As a retailer in the UK, you must charge customers a minimum of 10 pence by law for single-use carrier bags.

When the UK carrier bag policy came into effect, single-use bag sales dropped significantly in the UK, but retail businesses can do more to reduce this waste.

Try incentivising reusable bags by offering exclusive discounts to customers who do.

You may also wish to stock branded reusable bags to combine your sustainability efforts with extra sales and marketing. The sale of reusable bags also shows consumers how important being eco-friendly is to your business.

8.      Partner with a sustainable waste management company

Imagine putting all this effort into reducing your retail waste only to have your waste management company send your recycling to a landfill site. It happens, unfortunately.

You must partner with a waste team that disposes of your waste correctly.

If your current waste management team isn’t shouting from the rooftops about its sustainability achievements and goals, then the chances are they don’t care.

At Forge Waste & Recycling, we proudly send zero waste to landfill and recycle everything possible. We were pioneers in coffee cup recycling and continue to forge ahead in the recycling arena.

We support many retail businesses across Yorkshire to meet their sustainability goals, so if you’d like some help with your retail waste management, get in touch today.

Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.