The Zero-Waste Retail Revolution

Guest Post and infographic by The Cleaning Services Group

What Are Zero-Waste Stores?

A zero-waste store is designed in such a way as to comply with the principles of the zero-waste movement. It achieves this by eliminating as much waste as possible either through lowering the amount of waste produced or by changing how waste is managed.

Zero-waste typically feature bulk-style bins and dispensers. Customers bring their own containers and can select the exact quantities they need. This helps to cut down on unnecessary packaging while also preventing food waste.

The Rise of Zero-Waste Stores Around the World

Over the past few years, the zero-waste movement has become a worldwide phenomenon. According to the Bepakt Index, there are now around 150 packaging-free markets around the world. We are also now beginning to see some major players in the supermarket world, such as Waitrose and Lidl, launch their own waste reduction initiatives.

Zero-Waste: A Response to Customer Demand

On average, England generates 177 million tonnes of waste every year. The rising popularity of zero-waste stores indicate a growing customer interest in eco-friendly alternatives that help to cut down on this number.

The 2015 Nielson Global Corporate Sustainability Report shows that 73% of consumers would switch brands if there was something similar on the market that supports a good cause. Taking a more eco-friendly approach that emphasises sustainability has also been associated with greater transaction spends and increased brand loyalty.

Learn More About the Zero-Waste Retail Revolution

The below infographic from the team at The Cleaning Services Group investigates how these “zero-waste” stores aim to make consumers be more mindful of the environmental impact of their shopping habits. The graphic outlines the many business benefits of going zero-waste and also offers some practical tips to help retailers get started on their own zero-waste journey today.

Printing the world to rights: how print firms are approaching sustainability in Kent and the UK

This is a guest blog from James Hale, a graduate of the University of Kent. Having studied English and American Literature, James now works as a freelance writer, penning his thoughts on anything and everything of interest. He’s passionate about sustainability, and loves helping to spread the word about how we can all factor it into our day to day lives.

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Print is everywhere; it is so ubiquitous that we rarely notice it. When we think about printing, we tend to imagine newspapers, books, magazines, leaflets and cards, but how often do we stop to consider the impact large format print has on the environment?

Large format printing – the process by which the enormous billboards and banners of our modern world are realised – is everywhere, a major industry that populates our bus stops, shopping centres, train stations and more with vast advertising images.

We live in an ever-more eco-conscious world, and while we may rarely think about this type of printing or the impact it might have, print companies are working to make sure they can deliver their products in a way that is kinder to the environment around us.

Getting interested

For printing companies, however, finding ingenious ways to offer ecologically sensitive products is only half of the story. The Image Reports Widthwise Report published in June this year reveals that seven out of ten British print service firms have never once been asked by their clients about their eco-friendly credentials, despite the fact that a recent global census conducted by Fespa reported that 76% of printing companies worldwide said that their customers were keenly interested in environmental issues.

What’s especially notable is that these businesses felt it prudent to plan their strategies with that environmental interest in mind. Whether the UK is really lagging behind the rest of the world in its awareness of the ecological impact of large format printing, or whether this might be just a statistical anomaly, the point remains that there is a fundamental problem still facing the industry: how should they sell a service to clients who aren’t asking for it?

Communication, communication, communication

It’s an issue that some businesses have put a great deal of thought into. The Verdigris Project is an industry campaign that aims to raise awareness of environmental concerns and initiatives in the printing trade, and is sponsored by a number of industry giants, including HP, Kodak, Agfa and Fespa (a global collection of national associations for professional printers). It’s also hoped that printing companies will seek their own ways to inform clients about the environmental impact of their projects, and to confidently offer them greener alternatives.

Substrate procurement

The UK reportedly uses 12.5 million tonnes of paper every single year, and any environmentally-minded printing firm should be concerned about using recycled and sustainable paper wherever possible, and this means they need robust procedures for obtaining recycled paper.

Modern recycling techniques mean that large format paper made from recovered fibre can be just as good a printing substrate as ‘virgin pulp’. As a result some companies have opted to commit to procurement policies that insist on recycling-based solutions.

Other substrates

Of course, when we get into the realm of specifically large format printing, the substrate in question may not be paper-based at all. Many large banners and signs are printed on vinyl and other plastics, not to mention the many other materials of varying environmental friendliness.

If a large format printing firm wants to lessen the potential negative impact of their work on the environment, finding alternative substrates that don’t involve plastic would be an excellent place to start; much has been said lately about the growing unpopularity of plastic following David Attenborough’s BBC show Blue Planet II and the discovery of a plastic bag 35,000 feet down inside the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the world’s oceans.

Some firms, such as Kent-based industry leader PressOn, have adopted new and innovative print solutions to alleviate the problem. PressOn were an early adopter of products known as Tension Fabric Systems, which involve a printed sheet of fabric suspended across an aluminium frame, creating a large printed piece that is ideal for interior environments such as offices, malls and shops.

The metal frames are endlessly reusable for other printed designs, and the fabric that serves as the substrate completely removes the need for plastic. Nigel Webster, PressOn’s managing director, explains:

“Although popular in the States for a few years, we first started using tension fabric frame systems in the UK two years ago for one of our largest US based retail clients. PressOn always strive to promote this more environmentally friendly system to our clients, and it’s reassuring to see that the demand for this type of system has grown dramatically.

Brands in the retail sector traditionally use a lot of self-adhesive vinyl on their graphics inside the store and the shop windows, with regularly changing campaigns and offers to promote. By switching to the fabric frame system and installing aluminium frames in stores, we can print graphics directly onto more sustainable polyester fabrics using latex inks. These systems mean we don’t need to print, install and then remove and dispose of vinyl graphics.

The demand for eco-friendly print solutions has now extended to other sectors, too. They’re popular in corporate branded office environments (we’ve recently completed a project for Sky to use these systems in their offices), hotels, restaurants, bars and even to event and exhibition graphics too. Along with tension systems, other options for non-pvc products include paper wallcoverings from sustainable sources and also self-adhesive polyester fabrics as well. It’s great news for the environment and the print industry.”

Choosing the right inks

It could be said that the use of plastic and the wastefulness of large quantities of paper are more obvious problems than the ink used to create the printed designs — particularly as some varieties, such as petroleum and solvent-based inks, can be a source of gases that are harmful to the environment. Fortunately, there are several more ecologically friendly alternatives.

Eco-inks – made from vegetable oils or soya beans from sustainable farming environments – are becoming more widely available, while some printers are turning to UV-curable (UVC) inks. The liquid in UVC inks is aqueous-based; after printing, the ink is dried (or ‘cured’) via exposure to strong ultraviolet light. Significantly, however, these types of ink aren’t typically used by the large format industry, and are usually preferred by businesses producing packaging.

When it comes to large format printing, the best option usually lies in latex-based inks, which also don’t emit any unpleasant chemicals or odours, and have the added advantage of drying almost instantaneously after printing.

The environmental issues with some inks don’t end there, however. In order for paper and cardboard to be properly recycled into a clean pulp that can be reused as new paper, it must first be subjected to a process of de-inking to remove anything that may have been printed on it previously. Water-based, hydrophilic inks can be resistant to the alkaline floatation de-inking technique widely used in Europe; this is designed to separate ink from fibre and cause it to float to the surface, where it can be completely removed from the pulp.

Paper recycling is also an enormous endeavour – around 90% of Europe’s newspapers are printed on recycled paper – so finding inks that can be removed easily and efficiently is of paramount importance for eco-conscious printers.

In the end, the large format printing industry’s ability to be environmentally conscious rests as much with its customers as its service providers. The technology is there to print and recycle in a way that minimises chemicals and waste products; it only remains for those who commission billboards and large signage to be open to new techniques and approaches.

What Kent Businesses Are Doing To Reduce Their Impact On The Local Environment

Guest post: This post was contributed by Lee Sadd, a senior trainer at Kent health & safety consultant and training provider SAMS Ltd, based in Ramsgate. SAMS is a leading provider of environmental safety courses, and offers a range of classroom and online courses, business advisory services and event management solutions.

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Our environment is being placed under increasing pressure by human activity, and businesses everywhere are becoming more aware of the need to adopt sustainable and environmentally-friendly practises.

With no fewer than 116 sites considered to be of national and international importance for conservation, and with 350 miles of coastline, the county of Kent has a lot to preserve. Over the last five years alone, there has been an incredible 719% increase in the amount of renewable energy generated in the county, while 13,000 electric cars have been registered since 2016. Kent now also has around 56,000 people employed in the low carbon environmental goods and services sector.

With environmental impacts on business now thought to be costing the global economy around $4.7tn every year, businesses across Kent are investing in ways to minimise environmental impacts around the use of energy, carbon, waste, water pollution and emergency planning. The ingenuity of local businesses both large and small could have a tangible effect on the world and the local environment, both through new breakthroughs and cumulative changes.

Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

There are many steps a small or medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) might take to reduce its overall environmental impact. Easy gains include using less paper, introducing recycling bins throughout the workplace, and working with fellow green-minded businesses. These can be complemented by other impact-reducing ideas, from energy-saving LED lighting to more sustainable heating-systems.

These will not only reduce your business’ environmental impact, but also bring down costs through more efficient resource management. And while larger businesses can adopt many of the same simple strategies to reduce environmental impact, SMEs may also be eligible for a grant to reduce their carbon footprint.

Low Carbon Across the South East (LoCASE) is a programme that provides support and grants to SMEs in South East England for low carbon initiatives. Many Kent SMEs have already benefited from LoCASE grants, including Winterdale Cheesemakers – a well-established and award-winning manufacturer of Kentish Cheese.

With funding from LoCase, Winterdale introduced solar panels and invested in an electric vehicle for deliveries. The company now aims to completely operate from renewable sources, saving a remarkable 6.5 tonnes of CO2 and over £2,500 in energy spend. LoCASE has also given grants to a range of other SMEs to help reduce their energy use and environmental impact.

Low Carbon Kent, a network of businesses dedicated to reducing environmental impact both locally and globally, is another body set up with Kent SMEs in mind. One organisation that was recently able to benefit from its funding and advice is also amongst the most important historical site in Kent – Canterbury Cathedral. Part of its roof is now covered in a new solar panel system, which over its lifespan will offset 152,000 kg CO2 and save an estimated £101,567.

Big Businesses

The bigger the business, the bigger its environmental impact is likely to be – and Kent punches above its weight when it comes to contributing to the overall UK economy. Despite its relatively small population of 1.7 million, Kent produces somewhere in the region of £18bn worth of goods and services, and is home to some of the largest and most well-known companies in the UK. Kent’s businesses cover an amazingly diverse array of industry sectors, from tourism to pharmaceuticals.

Kent is also (and rightly) famous for its beer. Faversham’s Shepherd Neame Brewery, which makes favourites like Spitfire and Orchard Brew, has a history stretching back to at least 1698 – and may be even older than that. Despite its age, Shepherd Neame has been remarkably proactive in taking steps to reduce its environmental impact on the local area. 97% of the grain and hops used in the brewing process are now recycled as feed for farm animals,. In 2013 the company invested £3 million in a new Water Recovery Plant, which allows it to recycle the waste water that results from brewing and cleaning, bringing down water consumption by 40%.

By introducing a new heating system, the company was also able to generate impressive energy savings. Other players in the industry have also taken similar steps. J.D. Wetherspoons boasts many pubs in Kent, including the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, which may be the largest pub in Europe. Wetherspoons has also now stopped using plastic straws in its premises – a move that will have benefits for the environment in Kent, particularly around its seaside pubs and bars.

Kent is also home to the first sustainable business park in the UK – Betteshanger Park, in Deal. This £40 million park combines business, ecotourism, and research and development, providing a site for low carbon and sustainable companies involved in food security, environmental technology, life sciences (including agri-tech) and green technologies. Through its proposed Education Centre, Betteshanger Park will also provide up to around 500 traineeships in green technologies, improving the presence of environmentally-friendly businesses in Kent and the U.K. more widely.

More exciting news includes the fact that Kent is soon to be the site of the largest solar power plant in the UK. Cleve Hill solar farm will occupy the north coast of Kent and, when built, will provide up to 350 MW of generating capacity. Kent already has an impressive green energy profile, with the Thanet Offshore Windfarm – at the time of commissioning the largest wind farm in the world – producing over 7m hours of electricity since being officially commissioned in 2005. Kent may soon become the home of renewable energy, sustainable energy and eco-businesses in the U.K.

There is always more that all of us – businesses and citizens – can do to be greener. But Kent has already done plenty to trial and innovate business practises that reduce impacts on the local environment, and create a better future for us all.

Let’s save the World one return form at a time!

This week’s guest post comes from Claudia Cox, a Classics student at Edinburgh University entering her final year of study. Claudia is passionate about sustainability and protecting the environment, and also loves getting involved in social and environmental projects to encourage positive change where possible.

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Why its time online retailers get serious about sustainable packaging

A recent survey by UPS shows that people are now doing 51% of their shopping online (excluding groceries), which is a vast amount in comparison to just a few years ago.

This is great news for the environmental side of things, as customers who tend to shop online rather than in stores have already reduced their carbon footprint by driving less, and research carried out by Carnegie Melon University has found that it is more eco friendly for businesses to be online since they have an overall energy consumption that is 30% lower than traditional shops.

But there’s also another side of the same coin: with increased demand for delivered items also comes the need for more and more packaging.  So it becomes clear that it’s time online retailers up their game and think seriously about the parcels they’re sending out each day and the ways in which they can help reduce their negative impact on the environment.

Who hasn’t, at some point, been shocked by the awfully excessive amount of wrapping they’ve ended up with when ordering a very small item? It is sad to learn that the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in 2012 containers and packaging accounted for 30% (75.2m tons) of total solid waste generated in the US. Using eco-friendly packaging is therefore one of the most important steps companies can take to minimise their environmental impact.

However, conceded that having fully sustainable packaging throughout the supply chain is still a big challenge, it feels like all ecommerce retailers, and particularly the major ones, should be doing more to improve their packaging practices. Technology and innovation has helped to create sustainable alternatives, but big companies should also pay close attention to what startups are doing.

Ecovative, for example, uses agricultural waste to grow packaging in different shapes and the Finnish startup RePack gives customers of online retailers adopting the solution the option of paying a small deposit for reusable packaging at checkout. This deposit then gets reimbursed once the bag or box finds its way back to the company, via any post office in Europe. Others, like ethical clothing company Verry Kerry, have found some creative ways to minimise their environmental impact. Firstly they do not include a return form in every parcel, which on a large scale could amount to a huge saving in paper and ink. Enclosing return forms in every order seems to be a common practice among fashion retailers (ASOS & co) but, as Amazon & eBay demonstrate (with their online return policy), it’s clear that alternatives are available. Verry Kerry also send their (sustainably made) garments in recycled paper mailing bags, which are a great substitute of the commonly used plastic alternatives .

 

This is another way to check your packaging is sustainable, by ensuring that your products are enclosed in materials which are recyclable, as far as possible. For online retailers, this means not using flimsy plastic packaging to wrap items which is wasteful and unnecessary, but rather placing them inside packaging such as a reusable bag or a large recycled paper envelope. This keeps costs and environmental impact down to a minimum. Reducing the overall amount of packaging is also important, for example not using two separate bags for a product where one would suffice, and getting rid of excessive amounts of paper/plastic enclosed within the parcel.

The leading online fashion company ASOS have a list of packaging initiatives in line with these ideas, among which include using lighter packaging to help reduce CO2 emissions from deliveries and recycling packaging from customer returns. However although all their boxes are fully recyclable still only 25% of their bags are, and sadly this is the sort of packaging which is most frequently used by ASOS. It is clear from this that they are only part of the way there, and there is definitely so much more that they, as well as other large retail companies, can be doing to improve upon this.

To summarise, it is crucial that online retailers get their act together and start thinking seriously about how they can reduce the negative effects which unsustainable packaging has on the environment. It is the hope that in the future all retailers will have to adhere to strict guidelines about the way in which they conduct their packaging process, so why not take some initiative and start now, one step ahead of everyone else!

How Can We Reduce the Environmental Impact of International Industry?

Today we have a guest post from Justin Fox, a graduate of the University of Kent, having studied History here from 2012-2015.

Using the analytical skills he developed during his time here, he now works as a writer within numerous fields, from environmental affairs to politics. Always interested in current affairs and keen to give something back to the University, he saw the launch of the new blog as an opportunity not to be missed!

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As the threat of irreversible climate change draws ever nearer, humanities collective need to tackle the effects of pollution and global warming has never been more necessary. Achieving a sustainable solution to the Earth’s environmental issues is paramount if we wish to continue with our current rate of consumption, and a failure to address key issues affecting the planet is simply not an option looking forward.

Out of all of the various sources of pollutant gases, commercial industry is one of the most notorious contributors. The scale of transport related carbon emissions caused as byproducts of such production is truly shocking, and the statistics tell a similar story. A Chinese study has recently concluded that approximately 22% of early deaths caused by air pollution come about due to production of ‘products destined for a foreign market’. Whilst it would be unfair to make a sweeping statement and say that no action is being taken by corporate giants to reduce their carbon footprint, there is still more work that needs to be done.

Consumer Spending

Arguably, the best place from which to affect change is from the perspective of us as consumers, whose wallets carry significant influence. Quite simply by choosing to purchase more from those companies with a more conscientious environmental agenda, hopefully that can galvanize those who don’t at present into taking action. For example, in the takeaway drinks industry, there are massive problems with disposable coffee cups ending up as rubbish as large chains fail to provide the facilities for the recycling of these cups to take place. Some however have begun to sell reusable alternative cups which whilst a start, seems to be shifting responsibility from supplier to customer, when it should be more of a joint effort between parties.

On the other hand, businesses such as Lush have carved out a niche within the cosmetics industry using sustainability as their unique selling point, to the extent that they can charge more than their rivals and still enjoy a reputation as a top quality brand. More and more young people in particular have been found to take considerate policies such as these into account, so it’s far from the case that cheaper automatically equates to better selling goods.

This culture of sustainability of course though should not be contained within just the one industry, and can be applied to nearly any other, from clothes to car buying. Whilst they tend to be somewhat costlier, environmentally responsible goods are the gateway to getting such ideals to go mainstream, and to affect real change at the top of the business world.

Cut Down on Plastic Usage

Despite being crucial in countless products, there are various forms of plastics that have a terrible effect on the environment, and on wildlife in particular. We’ve all seen the horrific images of animals stuck in various bits of thrown away garbage and aquatic life choking on smaller items, and each case is another argument why more must be done to amend our current ways. Microbeads in particular are notorious, which damage marine life tremendously despite being so minute.

To reduce the scope of this issue, we quite simply need to reduce the amount of plastic that we consume. There’s so much that gets tossed away needlessly, such as with bottled water-roughly 176 billion bottles every year will need disposing of despite it being a resource available (in the developed world at least) from literally any tap. A lot of work needs to be done to restore the world’s oceans and seas, and taking control of the plastic problem is a key element of most plans to do so.

If the usage of plastic is unavoidable however, it’s vital that the adequate facilities are in place to allow for the recycling of the material and that the public is made aware of what forms of plastic can be recycled and what can’t. All too often, recyclable material is instead sent to landfill due to contamination, as well-meaning people have made a mistake and put non-recyclable items in with them. Going forward though the ideal scenario would be for biodegradable plastics to become standard usage in all walks of life, as part of a transition towards 100% recyclable plastics in all forms. Water is quite literally the planet’s lifeblood, and ensuring its security should be one of our highest priorities going forward.

Buying Local

Something that often flies under the radar when discussing environmental practices is the significance of local produce. Typically part of the debate around organic farming and ‘food miles’, by buying local goods, small-scale businesses can profit- businesses that often rely on traditional methods of production which are less environmentally damaging.

The close proximity between producer and buyer also cuts down on transport emissions, which as we discussed earlier is a major cause of air pollution. Getting even a small amount of long-haul lorries off of the roads can only be a good thing, but these local producers rely on the loyalty of their market to survive. Against larger competition who can offer a wider variety of services, it is once more up to us the customer if we are willing to perhaps pay a bit more and look a bit further for the most eco-beneficial bits for sale.

Furthermore from a global perspective, supporting local sources of production is vital for the development of economies in less well-off parts of the world. Aid from wealthier countries whilst well intentioned, often cripples economies as producers of any goods cannot compete with literally free handouts. Developing the global economy at a town and village level is vital to help the planet as it is only when this foundation is laid that sustainable development practices can be introduced. Actively choosing fair trade products wherever possible will do wonders in this respect, providing critical support for those in need and ready to work to create their own solutions.

Apply Pressure on Environmental Offenders

If more diplomatic efforts fail to yield results, unfortunately the best course of action is for concerned environmentalists may very well be to organise campaigns highlighting various companies disregard for nature, so as to turn public opinion against those who refuse to listen to reason.

Such activism may seem exhausting and often fruitless when faced with an opponent with such extensive resources, but many peaceful movements have done a fine job at persuading big business to rethink their approach to sustainability. John Lewis is a prime case where this worked in 2010, when animal activists led a protest against the chain’s usage of wool obtained via ‘mulesing’, a particularly nasty way of obtaining wool from lambs. Their supplier in Australia even agreed to invest $23 million in finding an alternate solution, all thanks to the efforts of a comparatively small group of concerned individuals.

Ultimately, the most powerful weapon that individuals can bring about change to create a more environmentally minded international industrial outlook is to use our money to affect change. Business of all shapes and sizes are inherently profit-driven, and will react to consumer demand if enough of us let them know that we want sustainable practices and sources of goods, even if it costs us a bit extra. Change will come about given time and persistence, and eventually buyers, sellers and all the planet will benefit, thanks to a more thoughtful approach to global production.

Justin Fox