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As a packaging professional, I’m not afraid to admit that plastic can be a minefield, with conflicting messages and signals meaning customers often don’t know where to start. Our goal at M&S is to only use plastic where there is a clear benefit of doing so and we want to help our customers do the right thing. We’re proud to be a zero-waste to landfill business already and we’re now working towards our ambitious target to be a zero-waste business in totality by 2025. If that wasn’t challenging enough, we’re mindful that the call for less plastic and more paper or biodegradable materials is counterintuitive to the world’s ambition to reduce our use of carbon. 

At M&S, we believe we can achieve a balance between the two by focusing on a circular economy, where we reuse and recycle as much as possible. That’s why we’ve been running our clothes hanger reuse programme for 12 years, where customers are encouraged to leave the hangers at our till points to go directly back to manufacturers. The hangers are then used again and again, whether they’re fully intact or broken – every hanger will be given a new purpose by being reused or recycled into new ones.  

As the first major retailer to start a hanger re-use programme, our brilliant store colleagues have collected and diverted over a billion hangers from landfill to date. But we wanted to do more. In 2017, we started working with Braiform, an organisation dedicated to changing the retail industry by offering garment hangers and packaging solutions that are better for business and the environment.

Braiform, which is based in Sheffield, partners with hanger manufacturers in all regions and primarily reuses products where they can. With their state-of-the-art sorting and cleaning technology, Braiform has been able to improve the yield of our hanger reuse and identify new opportunities for reducing waste. One example of this is in our M&S.com business, where we still provide some types of hangers to customers in parcels, often when they don’t need or request them. With Braiform’s support, we are working hard to collect and reuse these hangers in the same way as our stores and we hope to create an even bigger impact in the future. 

Since this new partnership began, it’s proven both good for business and good for the environment. In 2018, our stores returned over 100 million hangers to Braiform for recycling or reuse, which if converted into carbon, would be the equivalent to taking nearly 5,000 cars off the road for that year or preventing a million bags of rubbish from going to landfill. Now just imagine what one billion hangers looks like as a carbon saving!

We’re proud of our achievement so far, thanks to the efforts of our store colleagues and customers. This programme reminds us that a collaborative approach helps us go faster and further and create real impact. It’s a true circular economy success story worth hanging on to – and where we lead others inevitably follow!