Waste management has a far more significant impact on retail businesses than one might imagine. With the rising costs associated with waste management, coupled with heightened consumer awareness that leads many to use their purchasing decisions to either support or denounce a company’s policies, there’s a clear and undeniable need for ways to improve waste management in retail stores. Here are five solutions for retail waste management best practices:
1. Product Recycling
Many businesses are creating programs for their customers to recycle their products when their active life cycles end. These programs reduce the company’s waste footprint, sometimes on a global scale. Many companies are also providing their customers with incentives to take part in the programs.
For example, in 2012, footwear giant Adidas started a shoe-recycling program in Brazil called “Sustainable Footprint.” The premise is simple – customers can bring in old shoes (of any brand, not just Adidas) into an Adidas store. The company then shreds the shoes, at which point they are used as raw materials and alternative fuel sources to create energy. Adidas uses the material to power cement kilns, which not only reduces the company’s need for dirtier methods of power generation but also keeps waste out of incinerators and landfills.
What does the consumer get in return? The most tangible benefit is a discount for one of Adidas’s upcoming products, which in turn helps Adidas grow its customer base. The program also reinforces Adidas’s commitment to environmental causes. The Sustainable Footprint program allows Adidas to address multiple concerns (reducing energy costs, acquiring new customers, and demonstrating corporate responsibility) as a way to earn their customers’ trust.
2. Take-Back Programs
Take-back programs are generally geared towards e-waste, which is waste generated by the production and disposal of consumer electronic devices like televisions and computers. These items are notoriously difficult for consumers to dispose of since most residential waste haulers will not pick them up due to the presence of potentially toxic materials inside.
A take-back program involves a retailer literally taking back this e-waste from the consumer. Customers are usually so happy to find someone willing to take their junk that finding somewhere to legally return it serves as its own reward. Sometimes the customer will even pay the retailer to take their e-waste; in 2016, Best Buy instituted a $25 fee for large pieces like televisions as part of their retail waste management take-back program.
Retailers can also incentivize take-backs. As part of their delivery service for new television purchases, Best Buy will haul away a customer’s old televisions for free. This seemingly minor incentive makes the customer’s experience much more pleasant. Instead of worrying about finding somewhere to take their old TV, they can instead focus on their shiny new toy.
In addition to customer satisfaction, take-back programs generate revenue for the retailer. E-waste contains valuable materials like iron, copper, gold, silver, and aluminum. The value of these materials globally is about $52 billion. By extracting the valuable materials for repurposing while properly disposing of the toxic ones, retailers can trim their bottom line while providing a useful service.
3. Cutting Down on eCommerce Packaging Waste
Nearly every retail operation has an online component of some sort, which means shipping materials are included in their waste footprint. According to Fast Company, over 165 billion packages are shipped within the United States each year, which is the equivalent of over one billion trees annually.
Much of the inefficiency inherent in eCommerce waste comes from the overwhelming overpackaging of many products. To reduce the potential for damage to their products, many companies simply overpack their products. Most consumers have had the experience of buying a product online and having it shipped to them in a large cardboard box filled with plastic bags full of air, all surrounding a smaller box containing the actual purchase. Although this does usually protect the product, it comes at a high cost in terms of waste.
As a result, retailers are paying more attention to the “cardboard economy,” encouraging customers to provide recommendations based on their own experiences to help reduce waste. Many are also making an effort to refine their processes and detect inefficiencies before they proliferate through the product line and create more waste.
4. Lowering Food Waste Through Innovation and Philanthropy
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 1.3 billion metric tons of food goes to waste worldwide every year. This amounts to a full third of the world’s food production, and represents an immense amount of wasted resources, including water, energy, land, and labor.
Even food that does make it to a supermarket isn’t safe. One in seven truckloads of perishable food items is thrown out by retailers. According to the Natural Resource Defense Counsel, 40 percent of the food in the U.S. goes uneaten. The NRDC says the food is tossed for a variety of reasons including overstocking, low presentation standards, and misleading date labels.
This food waste contributes to the 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that come from food waste. The footprint of our food waste is so massive that, if “food waste” were a country, it would be the third-largest global emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind China and the United States.
In response, the EPA and USDA are proposing a plan to lower the staggering 109.4 pounds of food waste that each person produces a year on average by 2030. These numbers include a reduction of 66 billion pounds of waste at both the retail and consumer levels. The numbers outlined in these plans represent a 50% reduction in current levels carbon dioxide produced worldwide.
In the meantime, the problem of food insecurity persists for the 42.2 million American families who will go to bed hungry tonight. This problem could be solved by repurposing surplus food that would otherwise be thrown out. The FAO study states that by donating even one-fourth of total food waste, we could feed 870 million people.
5. New Technology to Solve an Age-Old Problem
One of the major headaches for any retail operation is managing the flow of waste out of their brick and mortar operations. The amount of waste generated can fluctuate based on shifts in their inventory or other internal events. The result is an inefficient system, where there is either too much or too little waste whenever pick-ups occur.
To automate the historically manual process of waste disposal, Sensa Networks’ Fullness Monitoring is designed to schedule pick-ups and issue purchase orders to waste haulers only when the compactors at the retail location reach a specified fullness level. This cutting-edge technology not only eliminates the cost of unnecessary collections, but also reduces your organization’s carbon footprint at the same time. Powered by data that is collected in real-time and is available 24/7, Sensa’s Fullness Monitoring technology utilizes a web-based remote monitoring platform that is designed to be accessible by multiple stakeholders throughout your organization at all times.
Today’s retailers are facing unprecedented challenges. The explosion of eCommerce is leading to shuttered storefronts in record numbers. To survive and thrive in this new world, retailers need to think outside the box and employ new technologies to keep their costs low, which includes improving waste management in their stores. Any retailer who is committed to long-term success needs to explore the options offered by companies with proven success in optimizing waste management. For more information on how you can take your retail operation to the next level, contact Sensa Networks today.
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