Skip to content
A dumpster next to a cart for flattened cardboard
Thought Leadership // Retail // Cost savings

Retail Waste Management: 4 Tips For Sustainability And Cost Savings

Amidst mounting environmental and regulatory pressures, managing waste is a cornerstone for retailers aiming for greater affordability and sustainability.

Bradford Arick | September 8, 2023


In the rapidly evolving landscape of the retail industry, integrating sustainable practices into daily operations has become increasingly critical to profitability. Amidst mounting environmental concerns and growing regulatory pressures, the effective management of waste and recycling is a cornerstone for retailers aiming to align their operations with the principles of economic prudence and environmental stewardship. Clean, efficient and hassle-free waste operations are crucial to enabling the smooth, streamlined operation of your business. 

Here are four actionable ways to enhance waste and recycling practices in retail, showcasing how these strategies not only contribute to a healthier environment, but also offer avenues for increased cost savings. By adopting these strategies, retailers can fortify their commitment to sustainability while reaping the tangible rewards of a more affordable and more efficient business model.

Read more from the Waste Watchers Blog!

1. Conduct a Comprehensive Waste Audit

A fundamental step in enhancing waste and recycling management in the retail industry is gaining a deep understanding of waste generation patterns, service schedules, how staff turnover affects waste management efficiency and if space constraints are being effectively mitigated for operational optimization. This understanding enables retailers to identify opportunities for waste reduction, recycling improvements, potential revenue generation, training enhancements and advanced data-collection. By comprehending the inner workings of current waste management practices within a retail operation, businesses in this industry are provided the opportunity to tailor effective waste management strategies that align with their sustainability goals, operational efficiency objectives and pursuit of greater affordability.

Conducting a successful waste audit is an imperative first step in gaining greater insight into current practices, costs and operations. Within conducting a waste audit, your business will be able to identify waste sources and quantities at key waste generation areas that can be targeted for reduction initiatives. Analyzing the composition and recyclability of the waste generated allows information on what can be recycled, what circular economy principles can be implemented and the types of decisions that can be made regarding partnerships and materials procurement in pursuit of the overarching goal. Potential cost savings and revenue from recycled materials through closer examination of expenses associated with waste disposal is possible once the information from a waste audit is compiled. 

Waste audits can be an extremely challenging undertaking, however, especially for large multinational corporations with a large footprint of facilities and varied waste streams. The logistics of such a campaign mean it can really only be accomplished every so often in the best case scenario so as to not disrupt normal operations. A waste audit also only provides a single snapshot in time of the inner workings of a business’s waste and recycling management. Seasonal fluctuations can render a manual, one-time waste audit inaccurate, leading a company to base decisions on data that does not provide a true window into operations. To achieve success with a waste audit at scale, modern technology tools are needed to speed the process, accurately compile data and provide ongoing monitoring capabilities for the truest, most accurate inside look at waste operations possible.

Working with a trusted waste expert like RoadRunner can make this a seamless, easy process for businesses across an entire operational footprint anywhere in the United States. An organic grocer with locations across several mid-Atlantic states was able to achieve 12% savings on waste costs while boosting landfill-diversion volumes by working with RoadRunner. RoadRunner was able to thoroughly assess the unique needs of the market chain, partner with the chain to handle extensive and growing waste and recycling streams and simplify the process for the company.

Here are 6 signs you're paying too much for waste and recycling services

2. Monitor, Analyze and adapt

Data-driven decision-making for the retail sector creates greater precision and efficiency. By basing waste management strategies on concrete data insights, retailers can ensure resources are optimally allocated, leading to waste generation reductions that often translate into improvements for efficiency and budgeting. Data-driven insights provided through technology tools can also alleviate potential space issues as well as uncover solutions to better manage periods of high and low waste volume fluctuations.

Central to this approach is the meticulous tracking of key waste metrics. Retailers should monitor aspects of their operations such as waste generation rates, composition ratios, recycling rates, disposal costs and areas of difficulty. These metrics provide an accurate snapshot of waste patterns and trends, enabling retailers to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Collected waste data is one tool able to power refined waste management strategies. Analyzing patterns and trends through employing smart technology tools such as Waste Metering™ based on AI and machine learning allows retailers to adapt their approaches in near real-time.

RoadRunner stands at the forefront of data-powered waste management solutions for the retail sector. Leveraging cutting-edge technology tools, we empower retailers to collect, analyze and harness waste data effectively. 

Check out RoadRunner's tools for the Retail Industry!

2 dumpsters sit outside of a building

3. Establish efficient waste sorting and collection practices

Efficient sorting and collection practices play a pivotal role in achieving waste and recycling improvements within the retail industry. Proper waste sorting lies at the heart of successful program operations. A well-executed sorting process not only minimizes environmental impacts, but also conserves resources by facilitating the recycling of valuable materials. Landfill diversion often leads to affordability opportunities with waste management improvements and the retail industry is no exception.

A seamless waste collection experience is integral to encouraging participation and compliance. By focusing on ease of use for staff members, retailers can create an environment conducive to effective waste sorting and recycling. Clear and concise labeling on bins is fundamental to inform employees and consumers about the types of waste each bin is intended for, minimizing confusion and contamination. Color-coded infrastructure further streamlines the waste sorting process at the source through enabling quick identification and proper disposal. Convenient placing for bins throughout the retail space in high-traffic areas and near relevant points of waste generation can also prove to be a crucial factor for waste management success.

Overcoming staff turnover to train and empower employees with the knowledge about proper waste management practices can be accomplished through comprehensive training programs that familiarize staff with proper procedure. Equipped with an understanding of the importance of participating in achieving company goals through better waste management allows a more cohesive and effective effort on their part.

These integrated efforts in conjunction with an end-to-end industry expert such as RoadRunner can forge a path for retail businesses to reap the benefits of enhanced waste management.

How to set, achieve, and benefit from challenging diversion goals

4. embrace source reduction strategies

Embracing source reduction strategies in the retail sector is another avenue through which businesses can achieve greater waste management efficiencies and cost savings. By rethinking product design, materials selection, product layout and manufacturing processes, retailers can significantly curtail the volume of waste generated. This goes beyond the traditional “end-of-life” focus of waste management, redirecting efforts to upstream stages in the product life cycle. As a result, less waste enters the system, leading to diminished disposal costs and less material sent to the landfill.

Packaging serves a critical role in retail, but it is also often a major source of waste. Employing materials that are easily recyclable or compostable reduces the environmental burden while simultaneously cutting down waste disposal expenses. Waste reduction and cost savings opportunities are also possible through right-sizing product packaging, creating minimal waste but also optimizing shipping and storage space. 

Working hand-in-hand with suppliers in this endeavor can be an important aspect of achieving waste goals in retail. Jointly exploring packaging alternatives presents avenues for both suppliers and retailers to create more sustainable and streamlined packaging solutions. It not only aligns with growing consumer demands for environmentally conscious products but also translates into operational savings through decreased waste handling and disposal costs. 

RoadRunner can make this a reality for your business. We employ a team of TRUE Zero Waste Advisors who can help create realistic plans and guide your business through the entire process. TRUE Zero Waste Certification involves a detailed examination of waste operations that works to divert an average of 90% of waste from the landfill, among other steps. This is another avenue in creating a more affordable, sustainable and efficient waste and recycling management system at your company.

How Major Retailers Are Embracing Waste Management Change


1. Walmart

Walmart, a prominent global retailer, has established an ambitious objective of achieving complete waste elimination in its worldwide operations by the year 2025. This initiative underscores the company's commitment to environmental sustainability. A substantial portion of Walmart's waste stream is attributed to cardboard and plastic packaging, food wastage, and automotive-related waste. To address these challenges, Walmart has proactively adopted advanced recycling technologies and embraced circular principles as part of its strategic approach towards achieving this goal. In the year 2022, the company successfully recycled 5.8 billion pounds of cardboard, 313 billion pounds of plastic film and packaging, and over 500,000 pounds of discarded car seats. 


2. Kohls

Kohl's, another prominent retailer, has taken proactive measures to reduce its environmental footprint. Through a multi-pronged approach that includes plastic and cardboard recycling, paperless billing, and beauty product repurposing, Kohl's accomplished an 85% diversion rate in 2020. During that year, the company effectively recycled over 110,000 tons of materials, which included more than four million pounds of plastic and nearly 200 million pounds of cardboard. In addition, Kohl's has invested in state-of-the-art technology at its fulfillment centers, enabling the automatic trimming of packaging to match merchandise dimensions, thereby enhancing recyclability.


3. Ikea

Ikea has set ambitious sustainability targets aimed at promoting the use of renewable or recycled materials in all its products by the year 2030. This commitment underscores Ikea's dedication to reducing its environmental impact. The company is also actively developing innovative products and services that empower customers to maintain, repair, and pass on products when they are no longer needed, particularly in the realm of furniture. Through this pioneering program, consumers stand to recover up to 50% of the product's initial value. This initiative is part of Ikea's broader Zero Waste strategy, reflecting the company's dedication to creating a more sustainable and circular approach to consumer goods.

RoadRunner's expertise for the retail sector

In the dynamic realm of retail, where consumer choices intertwine with global sustainability challenges, the onus is on industry stakeholders to lead by example. The actionable tips outlined in this article underscore the power of deliberate waste and recycling management as a catalyst for increased efficiency and greater affordability for businesses. By conducting comprehensive waste audits, refining collection systems, reducing waste at the source, fostering supplier collaborations, implementing effective recycling initiatives and leveraging data for continuous improvement, retailers can carve a path towards a more sustainable future. 

As the retail sector evolves, embracing these strategies not only exemplifies corporate responsibility but also shapes a narrative of environmental stewardship that resonates with conscious consumers. By embracing these principles, retailers not only contribute to a cleaner planet but also stand to reap long-term economic benefits, solidifying their role as architects of a more sustainable, resilient industry. RoadRunner’s comprehensive waste and recycling implementation, management and technological expertise stands ready to help your business make this a reality.


Find RoadRunner on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn!


Let's get the conversation started on how to drive recycling and cost savings for your business.