We've all been told that we should be reducing our personal carbon footprint, but on a business level things aren't quite as simple as deciding to take the family to Bognor rather than the Bahamas. But doing your bit needn't be complicated and could result in cheaper bills and a more efficient business. In the case of Nottinghamshire Londis retailer Simon Wheatley, he's cut the cost of his waste disposal by a whopping £1,000 a year.
When Simon, whose store is in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, took a look at his overheads, he realised he was spending far too much on rubbish collection. At the time he had three bins, for which he was paying £12.28 each for collection every week. On top of this, he paid 70p a week rental for each bin, bringing his total weekly bill to £38.94. That's over £2,000 a year - a huge sum which he believed could be put to much better use elsewhere in the business.
Even when Simon haggled his supplier down to £8.50 a bin, he felt he was paying too much. A keen recycler in his home life, he wasn't sure how easy it would be to introduce the principle to his business. He says: "At home I recycle bottles and newspapers and compost food waste, but it's more difficult to do within a business because it means extra work."
Things were brought to a head, however, when the shop burnt down last year, as chronicled in our last issue (C-Store, February 23). With rebuilding and so many changes taking place, it seemed the perfect opportunity to rethink the way he dealt with rubbish. He asked his existing refuse disposal company about recycling, but wasn't keen on its terms. "It said that it would be £20 per empty, but that it had to be emptied every three weeks, whether it needed to be or not. I did a bit of shopping around and found a better deal with a company called ICS."
Simon now has one bin for general waste plus a 16 cubic yard skip for cardboard. He pays £35 every time the cardboard unit needs emptying, which is about every fourth week, and £8.75 a week for the other bin, saving himself more than £1,000 a year. "It's substantially cheaper than the bins and I can have it emptied when I need it, rather than being tied to when a company wants to come and empty it."
Staff now have to separate the cardboard from polythene as this is not suitable for recycling, but Simon says this hasn't been a problem.
The new system is also effective on a health and safety footing as the fire that gutted his shop was started by arsonists who set light to the bins. His cardboard container is well away from the shop and he is sorting out a compound at the back of the building to stop people climbing over and dropping a match in it.
He's now investigating the possibility of going one step further and investing in a Mil-tek compactor, which has been recommended to him by other retailers. "I've been told that the initial outlay is £2,000, but then after that there are no costs for collection. I'm just working out how long it would take to pay for itself, going by how long it takes me to fill the skip I've got."
Simon would like to do more to reduce his impact on the environment, but is struggling to find areas that won't add too much to his workload or that of his staff. However, he would like to see manufacturers do their bit: "When I was a kid, you used to take glass bottles back - that was recycling. I'd also like less packaging and more of it biodegradable so it won't be sitting around for hundreds of years."
One simple idea that a lot of the supermarkets have adopted is to sell shoppers 'bags for life'. The idea is to reduce the number of flimsy plastic carrier bags given away. These 'bags for life' help the environment by reducing landfill waste and, of course, help the supermarkets by saving them - and making them - money.
Spar retailer Conrad Davies from Pwllheli has a much better scheme - he's been giving out free 'eco' bags to customers who spend £10 or more in his shop. And these bags aren't plastic, they are proper shoppers.
The bags measure 36.5cm high by 29cm wide, plus they open to a width of about 17cm. They are made of a tough hessian-type material with sturdy bamboo-style handles and inside there are compartments for bottles. Conrad had them branded 'Spar - Y Maes Pwllheli' (Y Maes means 'The Square', to denote the store's location).
"We got the bags in just before Asda opened in the town, as part of our marketing drive to hold onto our customers and sales," says Conrad. "We bought 3,000 and they cost us 60p each, but they have been worth the money. They went down really well with customers and definitely got people to trade up and spend more. We flooded the town with them and people are still using them today, which is all good publicity for the store."
Conrad says he's always given customers free plastic carriers but was keen to try the eco bags just because they are more environmentally friendly.
He adds: "We're definitely going to have the bags again. I'm sourcing some new black ones for Easter, but we have to buy 5,000 at a time."
In addition, Conrad recycles all the cardboard and glass from the store and is also looking at other green measures: "We have a huge flat roof so we're looking at ways of harvesting the rain water from that so that we can use it again, perhaps in the toilets."
Bags of ideas
Another retailer who has implemented a bag for life scheme is Terry Philpott of Londis Martins in Castle Cary in Somerset. He has had jute bags branded with the shop's name, which he gives free to his 120 account customers and sells to his other customers at a price which covers the cost of making them. He also packs smaller purchases in paper bags rather than carrier bags.
"It sounds like a no-brainer," he says, "but it's the sort of stuff that gets missed."
Terry reports that green issues are important to his customers, and this has spurred him on to do more. "It's not only concerns about carrier bags, there's also interest in food miles, so we promote local food and have created point of sale that tells the customers the name and price
of the product, where it's from and how many miles it's travelled to the shop. It's probably only on 30 or 40 products out of the 8,000 or so we stock, but it shows the customers that we're trying."
He's also significantly increased the range of Ecover products in his store and highlights them in special window displays. As a result, he's seen sales running three times higher on those products.