Waste Management Challenges Retailers, Suppliers and Consumers

Discussion
Sep 28, 2006

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network


The path of good intentions never runs smooth, to recycle an old cliché. As more retailers, suppliers and consumers look for ways to reduce waste, the obstacles in the way of achieving that goal seem to grow increasingly problematic.


Doing the right thing when it comes to waste reduction is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. In the UK, it is more than a question of understanding the terminology and the difference between degradable, biodegradable, recyclable, renewable and compostable. It’s generally difficult, if not impossible, to identify the constitution of packaging materials.


Making matters worse, is not knowing how to properly dispose of waste materials.


If rubbish goes into the wrong type of landfill, it may not decompose for hundreds, if not thousands, of years destroying the entire object of the exercise. All the money spent on devising different ways to manufacture packaging may be completely wasted if material is not correctly disposed of.


Every local council in England has different rules. Where I live, green plastic boxes have been distributed for newspaper, cardboard, plastic and aluminum, which have been rinsed and food traces removed. They are collected each week. Bottles have to be taken to a bottle bank. Garden waste is now only collected (on alternate weeks) if we rent large wheelie bins.


Other areas collect compostable food waste, cooked and uncooked, as well as bottles but will not touch paper or card. Some areas accept tetra-packs while others do not. Some ready meal packs are made of several different types of material that have to be disposed of differently. I have recently discovered that recycled paper or cardboard packaging cannot be recycled more than once, so you need to know whether your pizza box is a first or second-timer. The quirks and variations go on ad nauseam.


Discussion Questions: What can retailers do to alleviate consumer confusion about packaging materials, their environmental impact and methods for reducing
waste? Is there a benefit to a retailer that seeks to educate consumers on waste issues and methods to reduce the associated impact on the environment? How can retailers and manufacturers
work together to reduce waste more effectively?

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7 Comments on "Waste Management Challenges Retailers, Suppliers and Consumers"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

One way to look at this is that manufacturers who want to tout the green properties of their product or packaging need to make it out of one disposal form and (in the UK example) clearly mark how to dispose of it. The other way to look at this is that so few consumers actually care about environmentally friendly products (in that they are willing to go out of their way to buy them), why worry about this? The answer to the question may be that the market for green is sufficiently small that manufacturing and retailing efforts should be focused elsewhere.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
15 years 7 months ago

Retailers can respond to consumers’ growing interest in natural, organic, and environmental areas and have a responsibility to do so, in my opinion. This responsibility includes everything from the store design and ways the company is conserving, to sources for private label products and packaging, to offering greater choices in environmentally conscious products, both private label and national brands. And, of course, it includes consumer education on packages, in store, company website, etc. so consumers can clearly see what the retailer as well as consumers can do to support sustainable development. There are numerous opportunities to work with local and federal agencies as well on partnerships.

In our community, we recently received huge recycling bins for cardboard and paper provided by our local county agency. (The container is twice as big as it was before.) As a consumer, it’s amazing to see how much is purchased that can be recycled and used in other ways.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 7 months ago
Retailers are not responsible, but they can help by applying pressure in the right areas. For instance, if they spent half the effort on recycling that they devote to bogus, unproven, goobertronic organic programs, our trash disposal issues would be halfway solved. Retailers insisted on barcodes and got them. They insisted on standardized ingredient labels and got them. Why can’t they insist on great-big-ol’ standardized symbols on packaging indicating their resting place of choice? Why is there not a universal packaging symbol for “crud,” (or plastic, paper, or biological waste)? For Pete’s sake, there’s a universal symbol for kayaking! In the U.K., productivity awards are won by farmers who confine hogs in tiny little pens in order to encourage their growth by limiting their exercise. It’s an anal approach, but it works. It’s also been proven to reduce inter-hog diseases, if you’re interested. The thesis of this topic’s author is somewhat underscored by this practice of control. Even in the U.K., where “landfill” means digging up the priory’s backyard – not finding an uncharted wilderness… Read more »
Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
Showing leadership in the area of product stewardship will increasingly benefit not only retailers but their suppliers as well. The consumers interested in a retailer’s or supplier’s environmental efforts now extend well beyond the counter culture mavens of the 1960s and ’70s to soccer moms and many others. Businesspeople are also getting more interested as sustainable development makes more commercial sense even in the short-term. This is a critical point because without some kind of ROI, sustainable development activities don’t have a very long shelf life. Retailers and manufacturers like the environment, I’m sure, they just like it better when they don’t lose money on it. The first place to start on sustainable development is in packaging. There are some amazing things going on in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, where product stewardship is the law. Under product stewardship legislation, the manufacturer is responsible for retrieving and processing any master case packaging, as well as shipping platforms. This has lead to a dramatic increase in reusable transport equipment and a corresponding reduction in the use… Read more »
Mike Blackburn
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Mr. Needel’s comment that “the market for green is sufficiently small that manufacturing and retailing efforts should be focused elsewhere” is the type of myopic thinking that has got us into the trouble we have with waste. Let’s not let the invisible hand of capitalism once again shield our eyes and leave us blind. There is virtually no market currently to serve this niche/concern because it’s been ignored, largely due to cost issues. If you build it they will come. It seems some effort to standardize waste is due. In my area only #1 or #2 plastic is acceptable, yet there seem to be at least 6 or 7 different varieties, and all too often the packaging doesn’t comply with recycling requirements. Furthermore, instinctively I would assume that if we use less, our costs should eventually drop.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
Waste reduction leverages the benefits of recycling. If the waste isn’t created in the first place, it doesn’t need recycling. Retailers with private label programs have the greatest leverage. They specify packaging and labeling, so they can minimize both and make both recyclable. Retailers without private label programs can encourage customers to use their own totes by selling reusable totes or supplying waste cardboard boxes. Large retailers need programs to reduce and eliminate absurd quantities of printed advertising material (newspaper circulars and redundant catalogs, primarily), most of which has low profit contribution anyway. There are many cost-effective low environmental impact alternatives to print advertising, some of which build customer loyalty. Why not commit to them and cut the print budget? Incentivize customers to get on e-mail lists, then dump the Sunday newspaper circulars. Have a web site so compelling that people love to read it every week. Junk the junk mail budget and replace it with compelling in-store events publicized for free by local news media, e-mails, and in-store signage.
Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
15 years 7 months ago
The key to this topic is the last question: how can retailers and manufacturers work together on the waste issue? Retailers in the US tend to ignore packaging issues as it is “not their problem.” Unlike many places outside the US, we do not have many environmental laws governing packaging. One barrier is whether consumers will value an effort focused on waste reduction. Put bluntly, will they pay more for less waste? Assuming the answer is no, the challenge is to both hold costs steady (or, better yet, reduce them) while reducing waste and not allowing product damage or spoilage to increase. So, to start at the beginning, retailers and manufacturers need to reduce the amount of waste flowing through the system. Not creating the waste is the best way to solve the recycling issue. Next, manufacturers and retailers need to work with those in the waste disposal sector to provide easy and efficient ways to dispose of waste in a recycling friendly manner. Manufacturers have worked with waste disposal and recycling companies on waste… Read more »
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