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Feature: Counting the cost

Having worked for the Boots Group for 26 years, Ian Barnes has a pretty good insight into how the company works, where it is going and, more importantly, what waste it is producing.

In his role as sustainable development manager for waste minimisation, recycling and transport, he works with one other team member across the company, which comprises Boots the Chemist and Boots Manufacturing. With more than 1,400 stores and 66,000 employees, Boots the Chemist dispenses around 95 million items per year, with sales of £4,343 million.

While the prospect of taking this in hand and driving forward a strong waste minimisation policy may seem like a tall order, Barnes is a man undaunted. He is fuelled by a clear vision and the successes that he and the company have already achieved.

When he started out in the job, Barnes says the role largely centred on the logistics of getting recyclables from point A to point B. But he says the emphasis in the past 18 months has been on corporate social respon-sibility, and his brief has become a much broader approach to recycling and waste minimisation.

“If you look at Boots’ total waste arisings, including recyclables and non-recyclables, we produced about 47,000 tonnes of waste across the business for 2004/05,” says Barnes. “If you look at this from a pounds, shillings and pence point of view, a company of a similar size to ours would have to pay £4.75m to have this disposed of.”

However, with an enviable recycling rate of 50%, Boots is facing no such cost. Barnes continues: “If you take into account elements such as recycling revenue and our packaging recovery note discount, we are saving around £3.3m. So you can see how important recycling is to the company from both a cost and a corporate social responsibility perspective.”

Barnes says his role is to continually challenge the company in the way that it operates and see how it can improve things. For example, he is currently working with the designers of show material — such as point-of-sale signs such as 3 for 2 offers — who have traditionally used foam board.

“I’m asking why we can’t work with cardboard,” says Barnes. “As long as it lasts the length of time we need it to, it will be easier to recycle. This job is about challenging the norms and thinking about end-to-end cost. It may be cheaper to work with a non-recyclable mat-erial at the manufacturing end, but we have to think about what this will cost us in terms of disposal.”

Although Barnes has to work across all the different functions of the business, which each have their own performance requirements, he says that his job is made easier by the fact that embedded in the company’s policy is a clear strategy for waste minimisation and recycling.

Boots recycles a wide range of materials, from cardboard, the largest stream, to plastic film pots and printer ribbons. Depending on the volume of the stream and the economics, the material is recovered either halfway or all the way back to the beginning of the chain.

For example, cardboard is collected, segregated and goes back to one of the company’s 19 distribution centres. Bubblewrap also goes back to the dispensing warehouses to be reused. The 35mm film pots first go back to the distribution centres but then are bulked at Nottingham and

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