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Preventing Household Waste in Scotland: A Consultation Paper: January 2006, Paper 2006/1


3 Retailers

Waste prevention is the key to the survival of any retail business and ordering, stock rotation and merchandising systems have developed to ensure that retailers minimise waste product arisings. For commercial survival retailers must ensure that they only order what they can sell within the product's lifetime. Product wastage reduces profits and increases costs. - British Retail Consortium - Towards Retail Sustainability.


3.1 Retailers have a significant role in the UK economy and in relation to waste prevention. The Scottish Retail Consortium ( SRC) estimate that nearly 230,000 people work in retail in Scotland, around 10% of the Scottish workforce. Turnover in 2002 was estimated at around £19 billion. The SRC also estimate that during the last decade the price of shop goods rose by 10% less than the overall level of inflation and shop prices are lower now than they were five years ago. This may impact on decisions made by consumers to purchase products which may end up as waste.

3.2 There are considerable benefits to retailers of reducing the waste associated with products - reducing costs of production, storage and distribution; reducing the costs of meeting obligations under the Packaging Regulations; improving stackability and profit density on the shelves, making it easier to sell products; meeting customer demands and promoting a positive customer image. Driven largely by cost considerations, retailers have increased efforts to recycle "back of store" packaging. The Packaging and Industrial Films Association estimates that UK retail chains are achieving and surpassing a target to recycle around 100,000 tonnes a year of their plastic waste.

3.3 The economic drivers to minimise waste at "front of store" have been less strong, given that the cost of disposing of products sold to consumers falls to local authorities (and ultimately the taxpayer) rather than the retailers. However, excessive use of materials in products and packaging for products does lead to increased costs for retailers. They have been working closely with WRAP on product and packaging innovation, and using WRAP's Innovation Fund to co-invest in new product, packaging and product dispensing solutions. In addition, retailers have recently signed-up to WRAP's Courtauld Commitment, which is designed to tackle household packaging and food waste. This commitment includes: designing out packaging waste growth by 2008; delivering absolute reduction in packaging waste by 2010; and identifying ways to tackle the problem of food waste. More information can be found at http://www.wrap.org.uk/waste_minimisation/retailer_initiative_innovation_fund/news_events/news/major_retailers.html


3.4 The major retailers lay down requirements for products, reflecting consumer demand, and therefore have influence on manufacturers and distributors further up the supply chain. Therefore, retailers have a major role to play in relation to the specification and purchasing of sustainable products, particularly as these products are subsequently bought by the domestic consumer. Such procurement and specification considerations could relate to: the amount of material consumed in making the product; whether any hazardous materials are contained in the products; recycled content; product durability; consumer information on product use; labelling of component parts for ease of recycling, switching to mono-material packaging to improve recyclability etc.

Question 6: Do consultees consider that there is a need for guidance and support for retailers to build waste considerations into their procurement process? If yes, what guidance and support would be useful? It may be preferable to take this work forward at a UK, rather than Scottish, level.


3.5 Sales staff have an important role in providing information to consumers about products and services. For employees who handle waste but are not waste professionals, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management has established a training course to provide basic information on legal requirements and on how to minimise costs and the environmental impact of waste. More information can be found at http://www.ciwm.co.uk/pm/389SEPA has also developed a waste awareness course with the Open University - see http://www.sepa.org.uk/nws/promotion/training.htm

Question 7: Do consultees consider that retailers and their employees could do with further training, support and guidance on waste issues? If so, what?

Food waste

3.6 Food goes off. There are a number of labels on food to help retailers and consumers with hygiene and food safety issues. Labels can refer to "use by" (the food or drink should not be consumed after this date as doing so could be damaging to health and could cause food poisoning) and "best before" (it should be safe to eat food after this date but the food will not be at its best - eggs should not be eaten after this date as they may contain salmonella bacteria which may multiply after this date). "Display until" and "sell by" dates are instructions for shop staff to tell them when they should take a product off the shelves.

3.7 Hygiene requirements in relation to food must remain paramount. However, it would be helpful to establish whether consultees have any concerns about labelling requirements conflicting with the need to reduce waste.

Question 8: Do consultees consider that food labelling requirements cause any conflicts with waste prevention? Is so, what are these conflicts and what can be done to reduce them?

3.8 Retailers have sophisticated systems in place to estimate demand for products, particularly products with a limited shelf-life such as food. However, demand for products does vary and retailers may find that they are faced with an excessive number of food products on their shelves. FareShare collects quality surplus food from wholesalers, retailers and caterers and delivers it to projects helping homeless and disadvantaged people that are registered with FareShare and meet acceptable standards. More information can be found at http://www.fareshare.org.uk /

Question 9: Do consultees consider that more could be done to collect and use surplus food from wholesalers, retailers, caterers and other outlets? If so, what?

3.9 Food waste in the home can have a variety of causes. The householder may have bought too much and be unable to consume the full amount; the food may have become inedible quicker than expected or have become contaminated (eg by a pet); the waste may relate to those parts of products generally not eaten (eg apple cores); the householder may have over-estimated the amount of food to cook, resulting in cooked food going to waste. In some cases, food waste can be minimised by home composting or by use of food digesters or wormeries (discussed in paragraphs 4.30 to 4.33 below).

3.10 The Scottish Executive have considered whether producer responsibility for food waste could be established. However, it is difficult to see how producer responsibility could be applied when there might be a variety of reasons for food waste arising in the home, with some of these reasons being the responsibility of the householder.

3.11 However, the Scottish Executive does consider that retailers have responsibility when it comes to the marketing and promotion of products. Responsible promotion of products by retailers is entirely legitimate. Promotions such as 'buy one get one free', '3 for 2' offers and 'free gifts' can, though, create waste, persuading consumers to buy more than they actually need. (Over-ordering can often create unnecessary waste at a variety of levels: manufacturing, retail and consumer). Retail promotions are less of an issue when the products involved can be stored by consumers in their home for a long period and so can be used at a time of the consumer's choosing: for example, promotions relating to shampoo might fall into this category. However, it is more of an issue in relation to products which have a short shelf life such as food and so any surplus might have to be thrown away.

3.12 Householders should also avoid over-ordering (and incurring waste and unnecessary expenditure). Using - and sticking to - shopping lists is a useful tool in relation to only buying what is required.

Question 10: Do consultees consider that action should be taken to reduce food waste in the home? If yes, what action should be taken? One possibility might be to produce guidelines on retail promotions and their waste implications. Legislation in this area might be time-consuming and more suitable at UK rather than Scottish level. Another option could be increased use of re-sealable packaging, to help food keep fresh for longer.


3.13 Packaging is an area where householders complain about excessive use of materials. However, packaging is required to ensure that goods arrive undamaged and are protected against the elements and are kept secure. Environmental legislation in relation to packaging is already in place.

3.14 The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997, as amended, require all businesses who handle ( i.e. manufacture, convert, pack/fill and sell) packaging to submit data on packaging handled and meet recovery and recycling obligations. Recovery/recycling obligations are based on the amount of packaging placed on the market. Obligations can be met by purchasing Packaging Recovery Notes ( PRNs) from accredited reprocessors of packaging waste.

3.15 These requirements have resulted in 53% of packaging in the UK being recovered (2003 data). However, much of this has largely been achieved through recovery of transit packaging (or "back of store"), rather than primary packaging that the consumer sees, uses and then disposes of. The Government has set a target of 70% recovery of packaging waste by the year 2008.

3.16 The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 require companies to minimise the amount of product packaging. These regulations are a reserved matter for the Department of Trade and Industry and are enforced by Local Authority Trading Standards officers. To date, there has not been a prosecution in Scotland under these Regulations.

Question 11 - Do you think the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 are working? If not, why not? What action could be taken to improve their operation?

3.17 There is also non-statutory work in relation to the environment and packaging. WRAP are working with the retail and food and drink sectors to minimise waste from products and packaging. The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment ( INCPEN) http://www.incpen.org / also works to minimise the environmental impact of packaging.

3.18 For some items such as food, household cleaning products and toiletries, much packaging waste could be avoided if the consumer could simply refill their existing containers (eg re-filling washing powder containers). Such systems are commonplace in other parts of Europe and North America. Some UK retailers are piloting this approach. However, there is a general reluctance as:
a) the consumer usually expects a cheaper price when refilling a pack.
b) the consumer may be reluctant to take their existing containers to the shop
c) in-store dispensing systems usually require more staff time (tidying up consumer spills, refilling bulk tanks, etc).

3.19 One way forward may be the further development of reusable containers with lighter refill packs. This offers the consumer more value added and allows the retailer/brand to lock in the consumer to their products - whilst at the same time reducing the amount of material used in packaging and the amount of subsequent waste generated.

Question 12: Could any further action be taken in Scotland to minimise household waste from packaging? If so, what? Options could include:

  • Better information for consumers on the role packaging plays, how its environmental impact can be minimised, and what action they can take. This may be a role for Environment Direct - see paragraph 4.8 below.
  • Better information for consumers on how much of the retail price of a product relates to the packaging, rather than the product. Again, this may be a role for Environment Direct.
  • More work to mainstream product refill systems in Scotland (eg a feasibility study)?

Packaging reuse

3.20 Much packaging received by householders is one-way packaging, designed only to be used once. In the recent past, many bottles ( e.g. milk and lemonade) were re-used on a deposit and return system. This is now less common although it continues in other countries. Householders often re-use products and packaging in the home, sometimes for a purpose which is different to the original one ( e.g. re-using a biscuit tin to keep household tools in).

3.21 The development of 'reverse vending' technology (where consumers post their used containers into a machine and receive a cash refund or other reward), may help improve rates of recovery. WRAP are currently trialling 'reverse vending' technology with supermarkets in England.

3.22 Deposit-refund schemes have been working successfully in other European Countries for decades (eg Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and Portugal) and achieve high levels of return. However, there are obstacles to the re-use of bottles through deposit and return schemes. Some of these obstacles are:

  • Storing of a large number of bottles could create a health and safety risk and could take up space in retail outlets.
  • High hygiene standards have to be met. This would involve washing the bottles, which itself has an environmental impact.
  • The distances travelled by some bottles. Drinks sold in supermarkets may not have been manufactured or bottled in the UK. The economic and environmental cost of transporting empty bottles long distances could be high.
  • In Sweden, the 'Returpack' scheme pays a 'handling compensation fee' to retailers, to overcome extra costs/inconveniences listed above.

3.23 In theory, the concept of re-using packaging that reaches the household could be extended to other areas. For example, it might be possible for tins containing food to be returned to the manufacturer and re-used. However, the durable quality of glass makes it the most likely area for re-use of packaging. There are other examples of re-use in the retail sector: for example, a number of stores make arrangements to re-use coat hangers.

3.24 Encouraging re-use is a popular idea but it is harder to see what could be achieved in practice. One option might be to consider the success of the trials in England of "reverse vending" technology, and consider similar work in Scotland. Another option might be trials in Scotland of other re-use system (eg traditional deposit and return schemes) to see if such systems could operate across the country.

Question 13: Do consultees consider more could be done to encourage re-use either through deposit and return schemes or more generally? Options could include "reverse vending" trials in Scotland or trials of deposit and return schemes.

Reducing waste from the retailing of products

3.25 In some cases, there are arrangements in place to deal with un-sold products. For example, newspapers are generally provided to newsagents on a sale or return basis, with unsold papers being returned to the wholesaler. This is not strictly waste prevention but it should increase the chance of the unsold newspapers being recycled as the wholesaler will be able to make centralised recycling arrangements. It might be possible for arrangements to be put in place in relation to the return of other products by retailers to wholesalers, so that businesses do not find themselves with unsaleable products which they eventually dispose of in the bin.

3.26 In another area, new technology, or different ways of providing a service, can reduce waste. Some manufacturers are substituting products with services - for example selling music over the web rather than a material intensive CD; a telephone answering service, rather than an answer machine. Others are bundling products and services together - e.g. leasing a photocopier, and providing on site maintenance, or leasing carpets. This means that the manufacturer has an incentive to prolong the product life, takes responsibility for the product at the end of life and is therefore able to more efficiently arrange for remanufacture or recycling.

3.27 WRAP have just carried out research on retail outlets across the world and what they are doing to help prevent waste.

Question 14: Could more action be taken to reduce waste from the retailing of products? Possible actions include:

  • Measures to encourage more unsold products to be returned to the wholesaler.
  • Pilot projects on new IT technologies or new ways of providing services which reduce waste.

Provision of Information

3.28 Paragraphs 2.6 to 2.11 discuss the design and "waste profiling" of products. Consumers need information on the environmental performance of products to enable them to take decisions on sustainability. In some areas, such as whether the product is made out of recycled material or the energy efficiency rating of a product, this is relatively straightforward. In other areas this may be more difficult. Current initiatives include:

  • European Eco-labelling Scheme (the flower logo). However, this covers a limited range of products, and is not widely used in the UK. 7 The Commission has launched a review of the Scheme.
  • There is a consumer information obligation in the Packaging Regulations for retailers to provide information to consumers on packaging waste.
  • There is also a requirement in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive for information to be provided to consumers, when electrical and electronic equipment is sold, on how to dispose of the equipment at the end of its life (including take-back facilities operated by retailers).
  • ISO 14021 - Environmental labels and declarations - a voluntary international standard on green claims.
  • The UK Green Claims Code of Practice - gives advice to manufacturers on how to make green claims. False or misleading green claims can be pursued by trading standards officers, the Office of Fair Trading, the Advertising Standards Authority, the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority. DEFRA have also produced a shopper's guide to green labels - explaining the meaning of some of the green labels and logos commonly found on products. Pitching Green, a DEFRA newsletter, provides more information. 8
  • The European standards body, CEN, is developing an Environmental Product Declaration Standard.
  • The Scottish Waste Awareness Group has developed campaign materials for use by supermarkets to highlight what they are doing to tackle waste.
  • DEFRA plan to establish Environment Direct - discussed in para 4.8 below.

3.29 Clearly, there are a variety of ways by which consumers can be provided with information on waste issues: through websites; labels; leaflets; tannoy announcements. Inevitably, there is a danger of overload given that consumers will also be given other information in-store (eg on prices and on ingredients of products). There is also the difficulty that waste or environmental labels may be hard to justify unless there is clear evidence of a product's waste or environmental credentials.

Question 15. Do consultees consider that retailers and manufacturers could provide more and better information on waste issues to their consumers? If so, what do consultees consider should be done?

Possible Waste Aware Scotland award for the retail sector

3.30 Retailers are already active in a number of areas in relation to waste issues. One way of celebrating success might be to present an annual award to the retail outlet in Scotland which has made most progress in helping to reduce household waste. The possible downside to this suggestion is that there are already a large number of awards for a variety of purposes.

Question 16: Do consultees consider that an annual Waste Aware Scotland award for the retail sector would be useful? If so, what form should this take?