Home / Circular Economy / Waste management is at the heart of sustainability in retail, but policy costs take priority  

Waste management is at the heart of sustainability in retail, but policy costs take priority  

According to new research from sustainable waste management company, Biffa, almost nine in 10 decision makers in the retail industry believe waste management is key to sustainable business however, sustainability remains their lowest priority as new policies create concerns around costs.

The survey of over 1,000 UK business decision makers (of which 84 are from the retail industry) conducted by the YouGov analysis institute, explored attitudes towards, and engagements with, the circular economy. Results reveal that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of retail businesses surveyed have an established sustainability strategy, with larger businesses the most committed, and over half (51 per cent) of business decision makers in the retail industry surveyed recognise their role in the circular economy. 

Eighty-eight per cent of retail business decision makers surveyed opined that waste management and recycling are important in preventing climate change. Key metrics for measuring sustainability efforts for surveyed retail businesses include a reduction in general waste (58 per cent), increased recycling volume (47 per cent), and a reduction in carbon emissions (43 per cent).   

In order to achieve sustainability goals, the journey towards a circular economy must be clearly defined. Retail businesses surveyed identify the need for support for financial incentives (42 per cent), clearer legislation (36 per cent), incentivised partnerships (25 per cent), and reduced regulation (26 per cent).  

While most retail businesses surveyed are aware of sustainability and committed to it, 63 per cent of decision makers in this sector that Biffa spoke to consider sustainability to be their least important priority. This is compared to cost efficiency (92 per cent), revenue growth and brand strength (88 per cent), and data and reporting (82 per cent). Moreover, evidence indicating primary barriers hindering retail businesses surveyed include sustainability cost (48 per cent), competing business priorities (30 per cent), and lack of infrastructure (29 per cent).  

Roger Wright, Waste Strategy & Packaging Manage at Biffa, said of the findings: “We’re pleased to see the UK retail businesses surveyed are going through a noticeable change, with a growing focus on protecting the environment and tackling climate change. Small businesses, in particular, are leading this shift by adopting metrics like increase in recycling volume and reduction of general waste. The early adopters already recognise the importance of environmentally friendly practices and also see a great opportunity to meet consumers’ increasing demand for sustainable options by providing them with innovative sustainable solutions. For instance, supermarkets providing eco-friendly food packaging choices.  

“The upcoming Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging (EPR) and Simpler Recycling legislation collectively play a crucial role in achieving net-zero and sustainability goals. Together, these policies provide a comprehensive framework for reducing waste and promoting long-term sustainability by influencing product design, material usage, and end-of-life management. 

“Retail industry call for collaboration industry partners and suppliers, through incentivised partnerships and education, empower retailers in navigating complexities like managing Scope 3 emissions. Governments contribute by providing clear legislation, reducing regulatory hurdles, fostering innovation, and ensuring retailers exceed their sustainability goals.”

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