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Over 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 around 30 million tonnes comes from households. 

At M&S, 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 used clothing, food waste, packaging, and carrier bags. 

In parallel to working across our operations to reduce the amount of waste we produce, we have also started our transition to a more circular model, keeping resources in use for as long as possible. This is done by improving the recyclability of our packaging and goods, increasing the use of recycled materials and the durability of our products. We support the transition to a sustainable circular economy and will prioritise business model innovation and work with our different partners to put circular ways of working into practice. 

We believe such a change is critical: by efficiently managing our natural resources we can continue producing high quality goods and supporting the communities all along our supply chain as well as lowering our environmental impact and mitigate climate changes.

Commitments and targets

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. 

Approach

We've worked hard to take action in waste across our entire value chain.

Our M&S operated stores, offices and warehouses in the UK and Republic of Ireland produce around 59,000 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 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 are signatories to WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment which is pushing for improved resource efficiency and reduced waste within the UK grocery sector and WRAP's Textiles 2030 voluntary agreement.

We are playing our part in tackling the global food waste challenge, with an aim to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 relative to a 2017/18 baseline in our M&S operated stores in the UK and to redistribute 100% of edible surplus food by 2025.

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.  In 2020/21, our UK and ROI operations generated 59,053 tonnes of waste materials (down 15% n the previous year), with nothing sent to landfill.


Taking action on packaging


We’re targeting net zero carbon emissions by 2040, and further reducing and reusing our packaging is a vital step on that journey. We have clear targets of:

-100% of our food packaging to be recyclable by 2022

-25% of our store estate to offer our packaging free ‘Fill Your Own concept’ by 2023’

-30% reduction in the volume of plastic food packaging by 2027 

Find out more about our approach to pacakging.

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 aim is to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 relative to a 2017/18 baseline in our M&S operated stores in the UK and to redistribute 100% of edible surplus food by 2025.

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.

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

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. 

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.

In Autumn 2021, we are re-launching Shwopping, with a free treat every time you Shwop for Sparks customers – so that M&S and our customers can make sure less clothes go to landfill.

Find out more about Shwopping on our retail website


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 supported 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.


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 2012, 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.

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 (e.g. 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 organisations Oxfam.

We’re working closely with the Government, the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) on various initiatives and are signatories to two major voluntary agreements overseen by WRAP. Through the Consumer Goods Forum we are playing our part in tackling the global food waste challenge.