Ikea has announced it has achieved zero waste to landfill in the UK for the first time and now even turns a profit from waste, with recycled materials forming parts of its best-selling products.
The Swedish flatpack giant, which had sales of £1.72 billion in Britain last year, no longer sends any rubbish from its 25 UK stores for burial.
Launching its 2016 Sustainability Report, Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for the UK and Ireland, told The Huffington Post UK that waste is now a revenue stream.
”A few years ago when we had something like half the number of stores we had today, waste cost us around £1 million a year,” she said. “We now have 20 stores and five pickup points and we actually make a small profit on waste. We’ve turned waste from a cost to a resource. The next step is not just about recycling, but it’s about using waste in our own operations.”
“We don’t do this just because we’re tree huggers, we do this because it’s very cost effective,” she said.
Yarrow also revealed that cardboard is being recycled by Ikea to feature in one of its most symbolic products – the Billy bookcase.
“Take cardboard, big, big for us. Because of the cellulose fibres, you can actually only recycle it about seven times. They just get shorter and shorter and then you just end up with pulp. So recycling is good but it’s not the panacea,” she said. “What we’re looking at now is to take this cardboard and then we are reusing it. We are incorporating it into the backboards of Billy bookcases.”
And other recycled materials are forming new product lines for the firm.
“Another waste that is a bit unavoidable is that on our pallets, to protect them some of our products need to be wrapped in big ream of cling film and that is difficult to recycle,” she said. “We are now keeping that ourselves and turning it into products.”
Yarrow pointed out that large retail businesses like Ikea are realising sustainability is crucial to securing trust with consumers – and their bottom lines.
“H&M are being quite audacious about the fact they are taking on that whole fast fashion idea,” Yarrow said. “If you go into their stores now you will see opportunities to bring back clothes – even incentivised bring back schemes. I think that’s great what they’re doing.”
“Another example would be Interface, the floor coverings company which takes back used floor tiles, and Nike with its 100 percent recycled shoes.”
In the coming years, Ikea will work with customers to help inspire them to think differently about sustainability.
“We can do a huge amount in our own operations to get things rights and to make business sense,” Yarrow said. “But our biggest opportunity is with our customers.”
And figures suggest green living is big with British consumers.
Sales of sustainable products at Ikea rose 13 percent last year, according to its new sustainability report, totalling sales of £76.8 million.
“We want to create a better everyday life for the many people. Sustainability should not be something that’s exclusive, it shouldn’t be something that’s expensive or something for the fortunate few,” Yarrow said. “It should be easy, affordable and attractive for everyone. That’s where we’ll have the biggest impact.”