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Reduce Retail Waste

How to Reduce Retail Waste in 4 Quick Steps

Follow These Tips to Become an Eco-Friendly Retail Store

Retail waste is an issue for every store owner, regardless of what you sell. Reducing retail waste is not only beneficial for the environment but can also help foster goodwill with customers. Many of today’s shoppers want to buy from stores that reflect their environmental values, and your retail space can easily become the eco-friendly store your shoppers are looking for. Follow the steps below to reduce waste, and go green at your store today.

Step 1: Start Recycling

Recycling is the obvious first step to reducing retail waste. However, going green is about more than simply hiring a recycling service. There are many other strategies your store can use to recycle more and waste less.

Recycling Bins

Simple Retail Recycling Ideas

  • Place recycling bins near the store entrance for customers who need to get rid of trash before shopping.
  • Put recycling bins next to all trash cans, including in employee break rooms and other staff-only areas. 
  • Find specialized recyclers for things like electronics, lightbulbs and batteries that aren’t accepted in standard recycling. 
  • If it makes sense with what you sell, consider partnering with a local charity to donate damaged but still-working merchandise.
  • Make it a point to offer and promote products made from recycled materials.

Step 2: Start Using a Compactor

Using a compactor not only reduces waste but also greatly increases the sustainability of retail waste disposal and recycling, as Lane Powell, new business development manager for Harmony Enterprises, explains:

“Compacting helps the environment by using less waste bags (indoor waste), reducing the required number of waste hauler pulls per month (thus lowering carbon emissions) and requiring less space in landfills that are already burdened by an overflow of waste.”

Compacted and baled plastic bottles.

If you run a relatively large store, a trash compactor might be just what you need to both reduce your waste and lower disposal costs. Check with your current hauler to see what kinds of compactors they offer. A few different types to consider include: 

  • Self-Contained Compactors: These compactors are hauled directly to the landfill and are primarily used for mixed trash. Some units are also available with two separate compartments for recyclables and landfill waste. 
  • Stationary Compactors: These units collect waste in a receiver box that is then hauled away to be emptied. These are commonly used by grocery stores to compact dry materials, such as cardboard and plastic.
  • Vertical Compactors: These pack materials down into a removable container and can be used for both dry and wet waste. Their vertical configuration allows multiple containers to be used on-site.

Step 3: Reduce Packaging Waste and Research Alternatives

Packaging materials make up a large percentage of the retail waste stream. In fact, despite major strides in reduction, packaging still accounts for nearly one-third of all U.S. municipal waste. This makes reducing the amount you use a key factor in creating an eco-friendly retail environment.

Woman reducing retail waste with a reusable shopping bag.

Tips for Reducing Packaging Waste

  • Ask your vendors to minimize packaging as much as possible on your shipments.
  • Let your vendors know that you’d prefer recycled packaging. 
  • Ask customers if they want a bag for their purchases—don’t assume.
  • Provide a small discount or another incentive for customers who bring reusable bags
  • Consider switching to paper bags in your store, which are easier to recycle than plastic. 

Pro Tip: Look Into Eco-Friendly Retail Packaging

There are many eco-friendly packaging solutions out there, but perhaps the most visible example for your customers is recycled shopping bags. Earthpack is a recycled packaging company based in Irvine, California. They work directly with retailers to design customized shopping bags using recycled paper and plastic. You can also order branded tissue paper and boxes to add a nice, sustainable finishing touch.

For even more eco-friendly retail packaging options, check out the Green Packaging Group. This group of three like-minded packaging companies offers eco-friendly alternatives to virtually every packaging supply you might need, including boxes, bags, bubble wrap and even air pillows.

Step 4: Do a Waste Audit

While packaging waste is an issue for nearly every retailer, other areas of concern will be specific to your store and the particular products you sell. A retail waste audit will reveal your biggest sources of waste, so you can better prioritize your reduction plans.

Bags of trash for conducting a waste audit.

Before starting your waste audit, make sure you have:

  • Tongs.
  • Safety glasses.
  • Safety masks.
  • First-aid kit.
  • Nitrile gloves.
  • Folding tables.

How to Conduct a Waste Audit

  1. Designate a team of at least two employees to carry out the audit. 
  2. Create a list of waste categories. Include common categories like paper and cardboard, plastics and food waste, as well as categories specific to your business, such as display materials or banners.
  3. Label trash bags or boxes with each category name.
  4. Before your store’s dumpster is emptied, gather all your trash in one location where the auditors can sort it. Make sure the sorting is done in a well-ventilated area. 
  5. Have the auditors, while wearing gloves, sort all trash items into the appropriate category’s container.
  6. Once all trash is sorted, weigh each container.
  7. Use those numbers to identify your biggest sources of waste.

If it isn’t feasible to ask employees to carry out a waste audit, check whether your recycling company offers this service. If so, they will run through the above steps themselves, providing you with a detailed report after they complete the audit. Use the findings to further reduce your waste, starting with your biggest waste categories. 

By increasing your store’s recycling rate, compacting trash, minimizing packaging and conducting an audit to further reduce retail waste, you’ll show your increasingly eco-conscious customers that you’re truly committed to going green.

Is your store working to reduce retail waste? Share your strategy in the comments.