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How Retail Leaders like Marks & Spencer Meet the Challenges of the Circular Economy

While moving to a more circular approach to waste management is not straightforward, leading retailers like Marks & Spencer prove it’s well worth the effort.

Retail leaders, like Marks & Spencer and IKEA prove it’s possible to adopt circular economy ideas in order to reduce the financial impact of waste and improve business-wide sustainability.

Changing from the Linear to the Circular Economy

In the traditional linear economy, organisations simply create and dispose of their waste. In the circular economy, resources remain in use for the longest possible time and any waste is reused, repaired or recycled, lengthening its life as a resource.

In 2010, the Government announced a push toward a zero waste economy, encouraging more businesses to voluntarily opt into responsibility deals such as WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment to grocery retail packaging and food waste reduction.

Marks & Spencer is one company that was early to adopt not just the Courtauld Commitment, but multiple other voluntary agreements, while complying with relevant legislation. Their goal: to be the most sustainable retailer in the world.

With a plethora of regulations to adhere to, why do companies also choose to sign up to voluntary waste management commitments? Well, besides improving sustainability, the Environmental Services Association suggests a more circular economy could increase UK GDP by £3 billion each year.

A Holistic Approach

Marks & Spencer uses a holistic approach to manage waste, along with other business-wide issues, including:

  • waste and the circular economy
  • natural resources
  • product sustainability
  • climate change
  • responsible sourcing
  • community engagement.

Within its projects, Marks & Spencer is reducing the amount of materials used in the first place, maximising recycling efforts through on-site segregation and setting up donation routes for the reuse of materials.

Since 2012, across the entire Marks & Spencer business in the UK, there has been zero waste sent to landfill from construction projects, stores, offices or warehouses.

By making more efficient use of resources, reducing waste and diverting it from landfill, Marks & Spencer proves it’s possible to adopt circular economy thinking and enjoy business-wide benefits.

Striving for Zero Net Waste

Through a combination of waste reduction, increased recycling and the use of waste as a resource, IKEA too has transformed its waste management practices. IKEA is complementing these changes with sustainability practices such as using renewable energy and improving water efficiency.

In its 2015 financial year, IKEA produced a total of 29,419 tonnes of waste, recycling 89.32% of this. 10.14% was converted to energy, for example by using leftover wood as burner fuel, leaving just 0.54% that was sent to landfill.

Despite these impressive statistics, IKEA is still seeking further improvement and is using waste mapping to identify when and how they manage waste efficiently and where there is marginal room to improve.

Like Marks & Spencer, IKEA is consolidating its waste management efforts – working to standardise the most efficient waste management processes across its stores, rather than employ lots of different practices.

Companies like Marks & Spencer and IKEA are leading the way towards the circular economy in the UK. With the current non-sustainable rates of consumption and constraints on supply leading to price increases, it is important that more companies move in the same direction.