Thursday, 15 March 2012

Slimming your waste at work: a Suffolk case-study

Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with my passion for slimming down our rubbish at home, but I am also a sticky-beak when it comes to finding out what goes on behind closed doors in organisations across the country.

Inspired by my recent Smart Mums visit to British Gas, where I managed only a passing glimpse of their internal recycling activities, I was keen to find a smaller company closer to home that would allow me to have a poke about their own waste management facilities.  I really don't think I could have found a finer example of corporate recycling.

Music Sales is an international company which specialises in music copyright, printed music, book publishing and digital distribution. It also has 20 music shops that fall under the MusicRoom brand as well as 125 affiliated stores around the UK.

Rob Child, who manages the company's waste stream took me on a tour of their distribution centre, which is based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

The first thing that struck me was the relevance of Rob's role within the business. Until fairly recently he was responsible for managing the procurement of packaging materials that are required for distribution.  It was only 18 months ago that a newly appointed Head of Distribution had the vision to expand his responsibilities to incorporate waste management.  

Waste is something that Music Sales cannot take lightly. The company distributes to the public as well as trade customers in over 100 countries and its online business provides access to over 250,000 products.  From a waste management perspective, this means a heck of a lot of packaging coming through its warehouse door.

The company's trade waste service is provided by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.  Until 18 months ago, much of the packaging waste was landfilled and Rob explained that when he took over the waste management role, the landfill skip was collected two or three times per week.

These days, their landfill skip is now only collected just once a fortnight and as a result, their waste management bill has dropped by two thirds.

That is a startling saving, which has been achieved simply by diverting recyclables out of landfill through easy in-house segregation.

The warehouse now separates cardboard, paper and plastic film, which are common materials that travel through its distribution facilities.  These are sorted by staff into the crates that are provided before being baled ready for collection.

When you consider that last year alone, 90 tonnes of paper were handled by the distribution centre as well as 10 tonnes of plastic packing, responsible procurement and recycling processes can make a huge contribution to the company's waste footprint.  Rob recognises this and since taking over the waste management role, his own procurement processes have led to a focus on packaging that contains recycled materials as well as products that can be more easily recycled.

But the company's waste reduction activities don't stop there. As well as core business recycling, Music Sales takes legal responsibility for its electronic waste.  Rob also encourages staff to use desktop recycling boxes and recycle their coffee machine cups and refillable Thermos flasks were provided to staff in the warehouse, which has helped to cut down even further on waste.  Dotted around the site are trade-waste equivalents of the wheelie bins that St Edmundsbury residents can find at home, which means that staff can also recycle aluminium cans and mixed plastics.

In just 18 months, the culture at Music Sales has totally changed and Rob is pleased with the fast turnaround.  A waste audit conducted by an independent company a year ago revealed that they were already achieving so much, they couldn't find any other way of improving their process.

Personally I think the transformation of the company's waste stream is a real success story and it would be great if it could inspire other businesses to follow suit.  Not only has the business seen a great financial saving from diverting recyclables from landfill, but Rob and his colleagues are also delighted with the contribution that the company is making regarding sustainability.


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