Business Waste Reduction

Waste Reduction at Retail Stores

Retail stores generate large amounts of highly recyclable materials, such as office paper and corrugated cardboard. They also throw away plastics, such as plastic films (shrink wraps and bags) and polystyrene packing “peanuts,” newspaper, and beverage containers. You can educate customers and employees about waste reduction by promoting waste prevention through advertising campaigns and putting out recycling containers. And retailers can save money by observing the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.


The largest component of waste at retail stores is packaging. Work with your vendors and suppliers and ask them to provide items without excess packaging. Retailers have a tremendous opportunity to save money and reduce waste by following these packaging guidelines:

  1. Give your customers the choice of whether or not they want their purchase bagged, or offer a discount to customers who bring their own bag. Ask your suppliers to eliminate packaging altogether, if possible.
  2. Minimize the amount of packaging used.
  3. Ask suppliers to provide packaging materials that are either refillable or reusable. For example, retail stores can reuse certain packaging materials such as cardboard and polystyrene packing “peanuts”.
  4. Recyclable/Recycled Content. Use packaging that is recyclable and is made with recycled materials. To the greatest extent possible, recycled content should be composed of postconsumer recycled waste material, that is, material which has served its intended end use and has been discarded by a business or consumer.


Donate old and outdated merchandise to charities rather than throwing it in the trash. Store remodeling produces construction and demolition debris in large amounts from time to time. Many of these materials can be reused by other stores, schools, churches, or community organizations. They can be reused or recycled by advertising in a materials exchange, such as CalMAX, the California Materials Exchange. Materials exchanges help businesses and institutions find markets for materials they have traditionally discarded.


Retail stores can reduce disposal costs and sometimes even earn revenue from the sale of separated recyclables. Estimate the amount of recyclable materials your store produces and arrange to have it picked up by your waste hauler or recycler. Services may include providing recycling containers, promoting your program, and educating your employees.Ask these questions when looking for a vendor to pick up your recyclables:

  • What materials does the vendor accept for recycling?
  • How should the materials be separated?
  • Is there a minimum amount required for a pick up?
  • Do they charge for pickup?
  • Will the vendor pay for the recyclables?
  • Will the vendor supply recycling containers to use throughout the workplace and large bins for the main storage area?
  • How will pickups be arranged? Scheduled? On-call?
  • Does the vendor offer shredding services for confidential materials?
  • Does the vendor have references?

Choose appropriate recycling containers. The size and style of recycling equipment varies. Many vendors will supply a variety of small-size containers for business recycling programs and nearly all provide and service the larger storage dumpsters. You may wish to purchase your own personalized recycling bins with your company’s logo or convert an existing trash container into a recycling container. Many recycling containers are made of recycled materials, so purchase and use them whenever possible.

Locate recycling bins strategically and label them clearly. Place recycling bins in all heavy traffic areas, common work areas, and most importantly, in locations where recyclables are typically generated.

Buy Recycled Products

By purchasing and using products made with recycled materials, you are “closing the recycling loop.” In addition to packaging materials with recycled content, there are many other recycled products available, such as office paper products; tissue paper products; plastic landscaping “timbers” and ceiling, wall, and floor tiles. Ask your suppliers and contractors to make these products available to you.

At Malls

Mall property managers and anchor stores can provide leadership by coordinating waste prevention, recycling, and purchasing programs at multitenant complexes. Mall managers can consolidate efforts among businesses to generate large amounts of recyclable material thereby making recycling more cost effective.


  • Business and the Earth, a supplement to The Business Journal, 1991, Sacramento, CA, 95814
  • U.S. EPA Reusable News, Spring 1992

Success Stories

Sears, Roebuck and Co. is a leader in procurement of reduced and recycled packaging. Sears asked suppliers to identify ways to reduce the amount of waste, by eliminating packaging where possible, and by increasing the use of recycled content. Suppliers agreed to reduce the volume of packaging by 25 percent by 1995. Sears estimates the program will reduce packaging by 1.5 million tons by the end of 1994 and save about $5 million annually!Raley’s Superstores bags groceries in plastic bags made from 30 percent recycled milk jugs. Raley’s offers customers a 5-cent credit for reusing their large printed grocery bags, which has resulted in millions of bags being reused!

Herman Miller, Inc. has saved over $1 million annually, in part, with reusable or cartonless furniture packaging. The company also holds workshops to educate employees about waste prevention.

For More Help

Publication #500-94-026

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Last updated: August 21, 2012

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