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Some 200 million tonnes of waste is discarded in the UK each year according to latest Government figures. Of this, half is generated by construction activities, around a quarter is generated by other business activities, and some 28 million tonnes comes from households. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that food and packaging accounts for over 40% of what households throw away each year. Around three-quarters of the UK’s waste is already recycled or recovered in some form with just over a quarter going to landfill each year.

Moreover, population growth and increasing consumption (particularly in more affluent communities) are rapidly eroding many of the earth’s natural resources. We rely on natural resources to produce our high quality products and run our stores and operations, so this issue affects us directly. Growing pressure on diminishing resources and poor global stewardship could increase our costs, restrict our access to key raw materials and make our global supply chains more volatile.

However, a waste-centric approach to resource efficiency is no longer sufficient and potentially gets in the way of resources being used in the most efficient and effective way. Unlike society’s current ‘take-make-dispose’ business model, we need to transition to a ‘circular economy’ where the value of the materials and energy used in products are kept for as long as possible. In a sustainable circular economy, waste doesn’t exist and resources aren’t landfilled. A more circular approach to business can also help global efforts in combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services that they expect from us while respecting our planetary boundaries and need for social equity.

We are committed to sending zero waste to landfill from our operations and construction activities in the UK and Republic of Ireland. We also work across our value chain and take action on key areas of waste such as food waste, used clothing, packaging, and carrier bags. We support the transition to a sustainable circular economy and will prioritise business model innovation and put circular ways of working into practice. 

Waste has a number of cost implications, not least the fact that we pay for it as materials and we pay again for its disposal. In fact, WRAP estimates that the true cost of waste could be as much as ten times that of disposal costs. Since Plan A was launched in 2007, we’ve worked hard to take action on waste across our entire value chain. Working with WRAP, suppliers and trade associations we’ve estimated that our value chain accounts for around 2.5m tonnes of waste across the world – around 80% of which is in our supply chain. 

Our M&S operated stores, offices and warehouses in the UK and Republic of Ireland produce around 60,000 tonnes of waste all of which is valued and retained in the economy in some form. The majority is either transit packaging, such as cardboard and polythene, or unsold food which cannot be donated to charities. The small amount of damaged or impact clothing generated in our stores is donated to Oxfam or Newlife. We send no operational waste to landfill and have been working hard to reduce the waste we create. We’re also continually improving our approach to fitting out our stores by seeking ways to reuse and refurbish equipment.

We estimate that used products and packaging from customers generates over 400,000 tonnes of materials with just over half likely to be reused or recycled. The remainder will be sent to some form of municipal disposal. Based on our market share, our customers will be producing around 250,000 tonnes of food waste with around a third being composted or recovered in some form and 100,000 tonnes of clothing of which around a half will be reused or recycled. We use around 80,000 tonnes of product packaging, mostly on food products (85%) and according to UK Government data the majority of this (over 70%) is recycled or recovered.

We want to help our customers reuse or recycle every product or piece of packaging we sell but we cannot do it alone. For example, in partnership with Oxfam through Shwopping we’re promoting the reuse and recycling of unwanted clothing. We’re also working with our suppliers to reduce supply chain waste and have introduced industry leading programmes covering manufacturing and farming excellence in support of this. 

We’re now turning our attention towards how we use resources to produce our high quality products and run our stores and operations. By using resources more efficiently we have the potential to reduce our business costs and improve our resilience to global competition for material resources that may become less easily available.

We believe that both voluntary and regulatory actions are important. For example, during the 1990s we seconded a senior manager to help draft the UK’s packaging waste regulations. Since the introduction of this legislation the recycling and recovery of packaging materials in the UK has improved from less than 30% to over 70%. Similarly, we have supported the introduction of mandatory carrier bag charging legislation across the UK based on our own voluntary approach which we introduced in May 2008. This enabled us to achieve a 70% reduction in food carrier bag usage which increased to 80% with the additional support of legislation. 

Internationally, we operate within a range of different legislative environments and economic frameworks. As a result, there is myriad waste management legislation to which we need to adhere. For example, in the UK major pieces of regulation include legislation on packaging, handling of food waste, waste segregation and in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland on carrier bags (with England to follow in October 2015).

We are also signatories to WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment which is pushing for improved resource efficiency and reduced waste within the UK grocery sector and Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020 Commitment which is attempting to tackle the environmental impacts of clothing. We also support the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Better Retailing Climate initiative which is pushing for the retail sector to send less than 1% of their waste to landfill by 2020.

Our approach focuses on improving our resource efficiency and putting the circular economy into action:

Becoming a zero net waste business by maximising the amount we reduce and recycle and sending no waste to landfill
Achieving zero waste to landfill in our operations

In February 2012, we achieved our zero waste to landfill commitment – ensuring that all of our operational and construction waste (from every one of our M&S operated stores, offices and warehouses) in the UK and Republic of Ireland is sent for reuse or recycling.  

We spent over 18 months developing a strategy to ensure it was feasible, robust and commercially viable.

Waste had previously been managed directly by different parts of the business. For example, arrangements in our clothing warehouses differed to those in our stores and again in our offices. We realised that this was inefficient and would prevent us delivering our target, so we agreed that responsibility for waste should be centralised.

Some areas of our business, such as logistics, were deriving revenue from recycling which was factored into their operating plans. Other parts of the business had to make additional investments. Over the period of 3 years we restructured our operating plans and moved funding between areas to enable us to put in place a new recycling solution. We also had to work with our supply base to change the materials being used to ensure they could be recycled. 

All waste is segregated at individual sites and backhauled and consolidated at warehouses using the return journeys of delivery fleets wherever possible. ‘Store labels’ are used for tracking purposes to identify the waste source and tracked all the way to its final destination.

We donate damaged or unsold clothing to Oxfam or Newlife and we donate samples to Shelter

In some cases we've sent waste to suppliers who use to manufacture new products for M&S.

On a day-to-day basis, waste management is the responsibility of our Retail & Property Group. 

The revenue we derive in the UK and Republic of Ireland from recycling, coupled with the avoidance of landfill cost and a reduction in the staff time needed to process food waste, delivers around a £6m annual benefit to the business. 

Outside the UK and Republic of Ireland, we operate or are in joint ventures in 20 countries. Waste management infrastructure varies greatly across these territories. In many instances waste is also managed by landlords so is outside our operational control. As a result, we are not currently able to report on waste from our other international locations, but this is an area we are actively looking to improve upon.

Taking action on transit packaging

We were the first UK retailer to introduce reusable food transit packaging systems in the late 1960s to tackle our biggest use of packaging – how we transported our product from farm or factory to store. Over 70% of our food is now transported in this way saving around 20,000 of single trip packaging each year. 

In the 1990s we introduced similar systems to transport clothes. Since the mid 1970s we have even reused or recycled clothing hangers. During the 1990s we also introduced reusable transit boxes for horticulture and reusable nylon roller rail covers saving thousands of tonnes of cardboard.

We continue to take action on transit and home delivery packaging. For example, with home delivery items we’ve reduced the levels of wrapping used on individual products within a single parcel. Furthermore, in collaboration with our suppliers we’ve launched water-free packaging for bouquets of flowers bought online. The flowers are sealed in a water-free airtight bag during transit from our warehouse to the customer’s home. These packs significantly reduce water usage and damage to the flowers. We estimate that this packaging will save over half a million litres of water this year.

Tackling food waste within our own operations
Our priority is to reduce the food waste we create and ensure as much surplus as possible reaches people’s plates.

Our work with Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), Consumer Goods Forum, Institute of Grocery Distribution, British Retail Consortium (BRC) and our suppliers has highlighted the need for us to focus not only on our stores and logistics, but also on reducing waste from our supply chain and engaging customers to store and use food more efficiently.

We work extremely hard across all areas of our business – farmers, suppliers, distributors and stores – on a shared goal of minimising the amount of M&S food that goes unsold. Where there is unsold M&S food, we will, wherever we can, put it to the best possible use and believe we have an important role to play in engaging our customers and suppliers in a collective effort on this issue which can make a positive difference to our business and local communities. 

Helping our suppliers to reduce and recycle waste and send no waste to landfill
Towards zero net waste in the supply chain

Each year we work with our suppliers and other retailers to reduce the carbon impact of food packaging and food waste as part of the Courtauld Commitment and Sustainable Clothing Action Plan obligations.

We’ve learnt that different parts of our supply chain face different challenges on waste. Our clothing and home suppliers create relatively small amounts of waste but this is often difficult to recycle. Our food supply chain creates more waste and can vary greatly from one supplier to the other. According to the Food and Drink Federation over 95% of UK supply chain waste is already reused, recycled or recovered in some form but the biggest challenge remains – how to retain the greatest resource value from these materials.

We source products and commodities from over 70 countries and what can and cannot be recycled is dictated by the local availability of recycling technologies which will vary greatly. 

Food suppliers

Over the last 5 years we’ve been working with our food suppliers to help them divert waste away from landfill by using the most carbon efficient approach available, for example anaerobic digestion or composting. We’re also working with our suppliers to minimise food packaging write-offs. This has been supported through the introduction of industry-leading programmes covering manufacturing and farming excellence that encourage diversion from landfill and give credit for waste reduction. For example, through our Supplier Exchange Programme we have worked hard with suppliers to motivate and incentivise their efforts to prevent waste occurring. We’ve done this by embedding lean and waste management practices, improving our understanding of where waste is occurring and encouraging them to actively look for redistribution opportunities to ensure as much food as possible reaches people's plates.  

We also work closely with a range of partners such as Company Shop, with whom we have worked for over a decade, helping to ensure surplus stock does not go to waste from our depots and suppliers. 

Find out more about our approach to food waste

Clothing and home suppliers

We require our suppliers to make every effort to minimise the production of excess products and seconds.

In the event that excess and seconds arise we require our suppliers to manage these items responsibly and avoid disposal by incineration or landfill. 

M&S Outlets and our Appointed Excess Disposal Agents are the only routes that labelled items can be sold to. Overseas manufactured items are not generally permitted to be imported to the UK. Our appointed agents remove identification before selling on.

In the case of ‘seconds’, we require M&S identifying marks, labels and packaging to be removed or permanently obliterated before any items leave the factory for resale to trade or in factory shops. Items should be first offered to our appointed agents. 

The only exception to this is with toiletries, cosmetics, toys or home fragrances where we require such items to be destroyed beyond recovery or repair. 

In situations where our intellectual property has been infringed by a third party (e.g. another retailer) our normal course of action is to require them to donate the items in question to Oxfam through our Shwopping programme (see below).

Creating partnerships to help our customers reuse and recycle our products and packaging

We know there are around 114,000 garments discarded in the UK every hour. We want to play our part in encouraging our staff and customers to pass on their unwanted clothes for reuse or recycling.

Building on our Clothes Exchange initiative with Oxfam we launched Shwopping in 2012 to encourage customers to donate an unwanted item of clothing every time they bought a new one (even if it wasn’t originally purchased from M&S).

Through Oxfam, donated clothes are resold in one of their stores or on their website, forwarded on to those who need it in developing countries, or recycled and used to make new material (which businesses like M&S can make into new clothes). During 2013 and 2014 we also ran a number of pop up shops in collaboration with Oxfam where over 700 items were resold.  

Absolutely nothing goes to landfill. Oxfam uses the money raised to help people around the world overcome poverty. Our eventual aim is to help to recycle as many clothes as we sell.

Items which cannot be sold in the UK are sold to markets in Europe, Africa or Asia where the clothing is reused. For example, lightweight summer clothing may go to Frip Ethique, Oxfam’s social enterprise in Senegal. The project is designed to provide employment in Dakar for local women who sort and sell clothes to local market traders.

Items which cannot be reused are sent to Oxfam’s unique recycling plant, Wastesaver, which sorts 100 tonnes of clothing every week. Items such as wool and cashmere are sold to a wool processing company in Italy where the garments are reduced to fibre form, cleaned and made into new fabric which can be sold onto our suppliers to make new products.

Our Shwopping programme was paused for much of 2020, but operated for 14 weeks towards the end of the year. During these weeks, more than 80,000 items were handled across approximately 290 M&S stores. 

Since its launch in 2008, over 35 million items have been donated to Oxfam via Shwopping.

Find out more about Shwopping on our retail website

Taking action on product packaging

Across the retail industry, we use plastic packaging to protect our products. It plays a significant role in keeping our food fresh and limiting waste, while it prevents the clothes we sell from getting damaged. Plastic can have environmental benefits compared with other materials. For example, it’s lighter than glass, so reduces CO2 emissions when it’s transported. But we know there are challenges with plastic. Today, the use of plastic is rapidly increasing around the world, yet just 9% of all plastic gets recycled. At M&S, we want to play our part to help change this.

Our commitments:

M&S Foods has committed that 100% of packaging will be recyclable in the UK by 2022.

As a business, we are also a signatory to the UK Plastics Pact, led by WRAP. These include four 2025 targets:

  1. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery model.
  2. 100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  3. 70% of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  4. 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

Since 2018 we have reported progress annually on our target to achieve 100% recyclable packaging.

The progress data is detailed in the table below and shows the proportion of our packaging and plastic packaging which was measured as recyclable in the UK in the 2020 calendar year, compared with the previous year. Packaging recyclability is defined at component level in line with OPRL 2020 guidelines. Recyclable packaging includes that which is widely recyclable at kerbside or which customers can recycle with bags in large stores.


All materials that are recyclable (by weight)Plastic that is recyclable (by weight)
Total sales packaging87%77%68%45%
Food sales packaging90%81%73%52%
Clothing & Home sales packaging66%47%34%7%
As part of our membership of the UK Plastics Pact collaboration, we committed to phasing out eight problem single-use plastic items by the end of 2020: cutlery, polystyrene, cotton buds with plastic stems, stirrers, oxo-degradable plastics, straws, PVC packaging, and plates and bowls. Although we have made good progress to eliminate most of these items, for example switching all plastic cutlery to FSC Certified wood alternatives in 2019 and eliminating polystyrene from foods packaging, we are still working towards phasing out three of the items. These include use of polystyrene and PVC in M&S clothing & home, for example for our clothing hangers, as well as plastic straws, which we no longer sell as a product or use in hospitality, but are still currently used where attached to drinks cartons.

Read more about the M&S Plastics Plan

Engaging consumers to store and use food more efficiently

We have a number of initiatives to help our customers reduce the amount of food they dispose of.

We’ve taken action to improve the clarity of food date code labelling and changed freezing instructions from ‘freeze on day of purchase’ to ‘freeze by date code’. Together with the actions of other retailers and food suppliers this has already succeeded in reducing UK household food waste by over 1m tonnes.

We support and helped launch WRAP’s ‘Fresher for Longer’ campaign and have taken action on packaging to extend product life and make it fresher for longer. For example, introducing plaster-style strips to items such as punnets of strawberries and raspberries to absorb moisture extending the life of the fruit by up to two days. Other innovations include trials of Plantic bioplastic skin packs for packaging fresh fish and meat.  

Carrier bags

According to WRAP, carrier bags represent less than 1% of household waste but they are considered by many stakeholders to be a symbol of a ‘throwaway society’ and contribute to visible litter. They also pose a potential threat to wildlife particularly in marine environments. 

We believe irrespective of the impact being targeted, the most effective means of reducing the environmental footprint of carrier bags is to:

  • Reduce the consumption of all single use bags (regardless of what they’re made of) by encouraging consumer behaviour change in the form of avoidance and reuse;
  • Communicate and support the message of reuse in a clear and consistent manner; 
  • Ensure total transparency to show that charges collected from actions to restrain consumption are donated to good causes.

We do not permit the use of bags made from oxodegradable materials (which incorporate a chemical additive to initiate degradation by light, heat, mechanical stress and moisture over a period of time) as they are not suitable for recycling with mainstream plastics and wider environmental impacts are uncertain. These materials also support the idea that single-use bags can continue to be used in volume and discarded in the environment.

We are strong supporters of legislation requiring a minimum charge with all proceeds donated to charitable causes. We also contributed to Defra’s call for evidence on proposals for a single-use plastic charge for England.

In 2008, we were one of the first major retailers in the UK to introduce a voluntary 5p charge on our medium food polythene bags 3 years ahead of the introduction of any legislation. This has proved to be highly effective and reduced usage by over 70% - a figure that was then further improved to 90% when supported by the universal adoption of mandatory charging in Wales. Our food bags are also made from 100% recycled material. 

Our customers are also able to buy one of our 10p Bags for Life, which are again made from 100% recycled materials. We will replace these free of charge when they wear out and also recycle customers’ old bags.

All proceeds, net of VAT, associated with the supply of carrier bags in England, Scotland and Wales are donated to good causes. The money is split between a range of M&S partnerships on health, environment and international poverty.

Prioritising business model innovation and putting the circular economy into practice
Circular economy in action

The circular economy is emerging as an alternative to the traditional linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption which relies on ready access to low cost raw materials and easy disposal at the end of a product’s life or when it’s no longer wanted. 

While Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s (EMF) interpretation of the circular economy is often used as a reference point, there is no universally agreed definition. Organisations have differing views about what it means, how it might be progressed and what their current and future roles might be in advancing it. To some businesses, this can be regenerating old products into new products or taking waste material from one part of the business to use in another; to others it is simply making use of any recycled materials available on the market to make new products or packaging. However, the circular economy actually represents a fundamental shift in mindset where theoretically waste doesn’t exist at all. It is about a systemic approach to the creation of new business models to enable the sustainable management of resources in products and services.

We’ve developed a set of initial principles to help guide our contribution to a sustainable circular economy which we will test and refine over the coming months and years, but in summary they are:

  • Design and Recover – design products on the basis of circularity (i.e. design for optimised material usage, increased durability, and disassembly) and collect and recover materials from consumers and our own operations (i.e. reverse logistics processes);
  • Innovate Business Models – develop business models that will transform the way consumers buy, use and dispose of our products;
  • Collaborate and Engage – leverage our influence to bring peers, suppliers and stakeholders together to maximise circular opportunities (such as by using our technical expertise to change the mindset about the perceived quality issues for recycled materials usage).

We've identified 10 key areas where there is potential to create commercial and environmental value around controlling material inputs, material outputs, and/or influence material flow, as follows:

  1. Improving the lifetime and durability of clothing and other non-food products.
  2. Exploring new financial business models that promote greater reuse of clothing.
  3. Promoting the collection of used clothing for reuse or recycling (i.e. Shwopping).
  4. Improving the recyclability of clothing which is unsuitable for durable long lasting usage.
  5. Incorporating a greater proportion of recycled fibres in new fabrics.
  6. Reducing food waste.
  7. Ensuring that optimum levels of redistribution of food waste, use as animal feed and energy recovery are achieved.
  8. Improving the overall carbon efficiency of packaging.
  9. Promoting reuse and refurbishment where this makes environmental sense.
  10. Exploring new business models/financial arrangements that encourage greater levels of reuse within our own operations.

Our goal is to ensure that all the packaging we put on the market is easy to recycle. We'll be working with our customers to reduce food waste in their homes as well as making sure that every piece of food unsold in our stores at the end of the day goes for human consumption. At the moment no surplus food from M&S operated UK and Republic of Ireland stores goes to landfill, virtually all is processed using Anaerobic Digestion to generate electricity. Now even that will be replaced by ensuring it's all sold at markdown to customers or colleagues or donated to local food charities. 

For our Clothing & Home business we're building on our work through Shwopping to make it much more circular too.We will be launching repair services, use 25% recycled material in at least 25% of the clothing we sell by 2025. We will also be developing Circular Economy Standards to ensure our clothing and home products are all made to last and can be reused and recycled in the most effective way possible. 

Leading with others to accelerate the transition to a sustainable circular economy

We’re members of the Circular Economy 100 (CE100) group, run by EMF. We’ve also explored ways that policymakers can encourage the transition to the circular economy.

During 2014, we submitted referenced evidence in the Environmental Audit Committee’s Ending the Throwing Society’s Report.

We were one of the signatories to a letter organised by Friends of the Earth and EEF, published in the Daily Telegraph in December 2014. It warned against scrapping the original EU circular economy package. We’re closely monitoring developments on this issue and will respond to revised proposals. 

We’ve contributed to a number of projects and reports on the circular economy, including work by the British Retail Consortium and The Aldersgate Group, which advocate improved access to data, the use of tax, prioritising where the largest benefits would occur, and a greater use of standards. We also backed The Aldersgate Group’s work on An Economy that Works and Resilience in the Round

In 2013, we became the first retailer to receive certification to the Carbon Trust Standard for our achievements in waste reduction (in carbon and water too).

We monitor our waste performance on a monthly basis. Annual progress is independently assured and reported in our Plan A Report. 

From 1 April 2013, M&S operated and joint-venture stores, offices, warehouses and delivery fleets around the world have been carbon neutral. The recycling and disposal of our waste is included within our reporting boundaries. Find out more about our approach to climate change

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

We’re working with many specialist organisations to tackle waste issues and help develop our thinking on the circular economy, including WRAP, EMF, and BSR. We’re working with a number of charitable organisations (Company Shop, FoodCycle and Neighbourly) to redistribute surplus food to a wide range of charities that cook for those in need and are on the frontline of dealing with food poverty. We’re also running reuse and recycling programmes with help from Oxfam and the Woodland Trust.

We're working with a number of organisations (Company Shop, FareShare, FoodCycle, City Harvest and through our partnership with Neighbourly which links us to over 1000 smaller charities) to redistribute surplus food to those who need it most.

Through the Consumer Goods Forum we are playing our part in tackling the global food waste challenge and have contributed to the work of The Aldersgate Group and EMF to help accelerate the transition to a sustainable circular economy.