The UK produces 70 million tonnes of industrial and commercial waste a year, much of which ends up festering on landfill sites. The past three years alone have seen a bin-load of new laws governing how businesses should and shouldn't be disposing of their waste, and as the problem continues to creep up the political agenda, many more are set to follow.
Says Lee Wright, marketing director of workplace equipment provider Slingsby: "Moving forward, it is likely that legislation will be introduced to make recycling schemes a legal requirement in the same way that there are laws governing hazardous waste."
The laws may be driven by environmental concerns, but there's also a financial side to landfill waste. Cost per tonne soared by 25% last year and is to rise again in 2010: from April 1 all commercial organisations will have to pay £48 for each tonne of waste they send to landfill, and this will rise by a further £8 each year until April 2013.
"Any business or other organisation, regardless of size, is being penalised financially by the government through substantially increased waste disposal costs," Slingsby adds.
Fiona Serrecchia, key account manager for materials recycling company Cawleys, agrees: "Regulation is on its way, so smart retailers will want to get ahead of the game and implement good waste management strategies before it's too late."
Recycling is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to reduce the amount of waste that stores send to landfill, and once you've got a good strategy in place that can be clearly followed by your staff, implementing it shouldn't be too much like hard work, says Chris Murphy, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM).
In fact, most of the big professional waste management and recycling companies, such as Sita UK, will conduct a free waste audit for you. They also provide educational materials, specially marked bins and legislative updates to simplify the process further.
Phil Eccles, the national field sales manager at Sita UK, says he has already seen a major change in retailers' recycling habits in the past two years.
"Half of all the services we now sell are for recycling, rather than traditional waste management bins. Businesses of all sizes have really been embracing the need to recycle more."
Most UK councils will also offer a competitive paid-for commercial waste collection and recycling service but the hotting up of the waste debate is prompting a burgeoning number of disposal companies to wriggle out of the woodwork, too. Be warned, though, as some definitely don't smell as sweet as they sound.
Small waste producers such as convenience stores might not have to comply with stringent Producer Responsibility Obligations (only businesses which handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year and have an annual turnover of £2m need worry about those), but they do have to comply with Duty of Care regulations. These require businesses to: store and transport their waste appropriately and securely; keep all waste transfer notes for two years; and, most importantly, check that their waste is transported and handled by those authorised and registered to do so who won't end up fly-tipping it down a country lane.
You can check if a company is a registered waste carrier by asking to see their certificate, confirming with the Environment Agency, or checking on the NetRegs Waste Directory website, where they should be listed.
Another important question to ask before employing a waste contractor is whether they will 'treat' your waste themselves, which basically means sorting, bagging or labelling it, or if you'll need to do this prior to collection.
And if you don't want to end up with a mountain of card and wrappers in your backroom, don't forget to ask how often they will come to collect your waste.
It's a question independent retailer Chris Pollard of Barlby Village Stores in Selby wishes he had asked. "I used to use an independent recycling company to collect all the waste cardboard, but I dropped them after they started to become unreliable. The price of cardboard is incredibly volatile and when it was down the company just didn't bother turning up to collect it, leaving me with vast heaps in the garage. I now use the council's services. It costs just under £1,000 a year, but they collect once a week without fail."
Most larger stores will have their waste collected on a daily basis, but for smaller businesses weekly collections aren't uncommon, meaning that an increasing number of retailers are also turning to technology to reduce the size of waste products ahead of collection.
Charles Brading has recently invested in a baler to help with the cardboard recycling at his store, Vic's in the Isle of Wight. "After some of our bigger deliveries of 400-plus cases we can be left with a mountain of card. I don't have much space at the back of the store so the baler has been a godsend. It squashes all the cardboard into small blocks which are then collected by Biffa. It's also great for getting rid of the poly shrink-wrap. I fill about six bins with it each week and the machine compresses it into a 2ft block," he says.
Chris Pollard has an altogether more physical approach to the problem. "I'm really into my recycling, but I don't use any of the high-tech gadgets and gismos to help me do it. You can achieve the same effect by getting into the bins and stamping the cardboard down. Trust me, it's very effective!"
Those retailers who are part of a symbol group will probably have their recycling needs taken care of, says Costcutter trading manager Adam Walker.
"Symbol group members can benefit from centrally negotiated terms with waste management companies; Costcutter has terms in place with JBS Waste and Biffa. We also offer a full baling solution, with free collections of baled cardboard available throughout the UK."
Walker adds that epos facilities such as the group's C-PoS system can also help in reducing waste by enabling retailers to better manage stock levels and eliminate over-ordering.
One retailer who is taking the battle of the bins to new heights is Andrew Thornton. The Budgens retailer is on a quest to send zero waste to landfill, and he's not far from achieving it. "Six months ago I set myself the goal of reducing the amount of waste that my two London stores sent to landfill, and today I've managed to get it down to just 6%," he says.
All Andrew's waste cardboard is collected daily by Budgens for recycling. The rest is collected by independent waste management company Cawleys, which uses the innovative process of anaerobic digestion (AD) to dispose of all Andrew's food waste in an environmentally friendly way. Food waste is broken down into fertiliser, and biogas (which is converted into electricity and heat). "It doesn't cost me any more than it did when I used an ordinary contractor to take my waste to landfill, and this is so much better for the environment."
But Andrew's not stopping there. He plans to achieve his zero waste to landfill goal in the next few months when he launches the Food Cycle scheme (Convenience Store, February 5, p8). The initiative involves freezing food before its sell-by date and sending it to soup kitchens across the capital.
And there are other ways to recycle, too. Online business-to-business waste exchanges are becoming increasingly popular, and your "waste" cardboard boxes or crates could be of great use to your local school's art department, or to people moving house. You'd be surprised how much interest a poster in your store could generate. So go on, why waste the opportunity?