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Comment: Big business can make a profit from waste

As a magazine working in the recycling industry, we are fortunate to be writing about an industry that is on the up-and-up.

Last week, MRW wrote about Sainsbury's, Tesco and Marks & Spencer getting involved in various recycling projects (we look in a little more detail at this on page 8 in this issue by the way).

In previous magazines, we have also covered stories about big retailers such as Dixon's and Comet getting involved in Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment collection schemes.

And in coming weeks we are sure to continue writing about retailers getting involved in recycling.

But this week, we have one good news story that I hope will be a shining light for both the recycling industry and major chain stores.

We report on how the national chain of bakers Greggs is making a profit from recycling in its stores in Wales and south-west England.

Not only is it cutting down on its costs by reducing its liabilities to landfill tax by recycling paper, packaging, plastics and organic waste, but it is also making a profit by finding markets to sell these resources.

Although the figures being saved and made are quite small at the moment, it is a truism that big businesses make big profits by minimising costs and looking for ways to increase profits. This means that a lot of small savings and a lot of small areas that make a profit combine to make the business successful.

So Greggs' success in its recycling programme to the tune of about £40,000 from some of its stores is likely to result in its management investigating whether this scheme can be rolled out across the country.

This is the sort of message that the recycling industry needs to start bragging about to retailers. For many, recycling is an opportunity to show off their corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials and make them appear more concerned about the environment than their previous track record suggest.

But unfortunately, for all too many big businesses, their CSR policies are often a diversionary tactic that enable them to look good to their customers, while still feeding in any way possible the greed of profit-hungry directors and shareholders.

Yet it is this profit-making philosophy that could provide a massive boost for the recycling industry.

Once these companies start to identify the cost savings and even profit-making potential of their waste products, they are likely to invest in technologies to process them.

But they will also seek out new markets for their waste products and possibly even create the conditions for them to develop. The power of these massive retailers cannot be underestimated, and when it comes to recycling that muscular strength should be harnessed, exploited and used to benefit everyone concerned.

It also means that the recycling industry needs to modernise its cultures, attitudes and business practices to work alongside these 21st Century giants.

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