How to Reduce Waste in Retail: 10 Ways to Get Started

Illustration of a happy earth with less pollution

There’s no getting around the fact that we all create waste. While many of us take the time and effort to reduce our own personal waste, the vast majority of waste comes from businesses. And a lot of it can be minimized.

For business owners, it’s important to consider how to reduce waste in retail. Not only does it help reduce your footprint, but it also will save you money and improve your brand image. Minimizing waste, proper recycling, and reusing certain materials can go a long way.

But what are the best ways to reduce your store’s waste? There are some pretty simple ways that can have a big impact.

1. Start With a Retail Waste Audit

A project of this type will vary widely based on the type of store that you have. For big retailers, it’s best to hire a consulting service to determine your biggest areas of waste and improvement. There are many services available that can quickly have a profound impact on your business.

Small businesses are able to conduct such an audit internally:

  • Make a list of different categories of waste.
  • Demarcate a certain area for each category.
  • Gather all waste from a set time period (probably a week).
  • Separate it into each appropriate section.
  • Measure each container to see where waste is greatest.
  • Consider all items in the pile that were unnecessary.

If you don’t feel like doing this on your own, your local recycling service is likely to help.

2. Incentivize the Use of Reusable Bags

Reusable bags are becoming more popular all the time. Still, a lot of shoppers don’t care to use them or have trouble remembering to bring them along while shopping.

Encourage their use by offering affordable cloth bags. Add a great design and your shoppers will be using them everywhere. It’s a good opportunity for some added marketing while also reducing your waste. 

Plus, several states have banned plastic bags. Paper bags, though less harmful to the environment, are more expensive. One can only assume that more states will follow suit. This gives even more reason to get your shoppers to use reusable bags.

Some businesses have begun charging for plastic or paper bags. If your business is established enough, this may work well. Newer businesses, however, run the risk of losing customers. If this is the case, think about offering reusable bags for free. 

3. How to Reduce Waste in Retail with Less Packaging

Unnecessarily bulky packaging is one of the most avoidable ways to cut down on waste (a la oranges placed in styrofoam and wrapped in cling wrap). 

Check out your inventory to see what areas in which you can reduce packaging. Even eliminating one small piece can add up when you sell hundreds or thousands of that unit.

  • Look for extra pieces of plastic, cardboard, or paper that can be taken away.
  • Don’t use additional or oversized bags.
  • Avoid wrapping items in more than one layer.
  • Offer efficient gift wrapping during the holiday season.
  • Order in bulk from vendors.

There are many ways to reduce your packaging waste. And again, this will save you money and time.

4. Make Recycling Easy

At this point, every business should be recycling. But it’s important to make it easy for your shoppers and your customers. Many people will throw recyclable materials into the garbage if there is no recycling bin nearby. 

Add one just inside or outside your front door for customer use and be sure to label it properly. More importantly, make sure that it’s convenient and quick for staff to be able to recycle items as well. If you have a busy floor you don’t want team members to spend too much time recycling and away from customers. They know your retail floor space better than anyone, so ask them to help devise a system to make recycling fast and easy.

Lastly, most retail businesses go through a whole lot of cardboard. Get a baler for proper disposal and recycling of this material. It’s an investment but will make a big difference.

5. Donate or Discount Slightly Damaging Products

We’ve long heard about how much rotten or unsightly food goes to waste (in the United States it’s about 40%!). But the same goes for damaged or tampered products at retail stores. Retail shrinkage accounts for a massive amount of waste. But instead of just throwing them out, think about some alternative uses.

  • Some retailers opt to donate these items. Bring them to a second hand store, a shelter, or any charity that could use them.
  • Add them to a clearance or discount section of the store.
  • Sell them at a reduced price to discount retailers.
  • Give them as gifts to your staff.

It’s easy to devise alternatives to just throwing these items away. Doing so will drastically reduce your retail waste.

6. Implement a Buy-Back Program

Some retail stores have taken the last step to the next level by encouraging customers to bring in products they no longer want through a retail buy-back program.

This allows shoppers to bring in used items that your store can buy-back for a fraction of the price it was sold for. In turn, you are able to resell them at your store, donate the products, or sell them to another retailer. 

Such a program benefits every party involved: customers get a small return on their original purchase, you have the opportunity for another small profit on the item, someone else gets to use it at a discounted price, and the product isn’t wasted. 

This also encourages more customer interaction and increased visits to your shop, building your brand awareness and total sales.

7. Take the Time to Educate Your Team

With any changes to your store, educating your staff is key. So if you’re trying to implement a more robust program for waste reduction, it’s important to start with proper education.

Set up a training session for your team to discuss how your new policy works and why it’s important for your business.

Remember to stress that reducing waste and your environmental footprint is beneficial on many levels. It is an ethical direction to take, saves your business money, builds a stronger brand identity, and inspires more stewardship from both your employees and customers.

8. Lower Your Waste By Carrying Environmentally Friendly Products

Another way to indirectly reduce your retail waste is to focus on how you source products. Speak to your vendors about where they get their products, what is used to package them, how they are shipped, etc.

Source products from manufacturers who share your standards and principles. You’ll be able to promote these businesses by selling their products and form a great relationship with your suppliers.

If applicable to your business, visit the factory, plant, farm, or other location of where your products are made and assembled. You’ll be able to confidently tell shoppers that you know exactly where and what type of conditions your products are made.

9. Stop Using So Much Paper

The vast majority of business operations are now easily paperless. But many small businesses have yet to make the switch. Even if you don’t go completely paperless, making a few changes here and there will make a difference:

  • Electronic shelf labels
  • Direct deposit for paychecks
  • Reusable bags
  • Emailed receipts
  • Digital utility bills and bank statements
  • Scheduling apps
  • Online training manuals

Making each of these changes will also improve communication and efficiency. Papers get easily lost and pile up, making a mess and often needing to be reprinted.

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10. Reduce Retail Waste With Great Inventory Management

This is particularly apt if you sell perishables. The most common reason for wasting product is because of poor ordering habits. And if you have a large inventory, optimizing your ordering is a massive task. For most businesses, it’s impossible to complete without retail inventory software.

It might be time to switch if you’re currently running a business without a robust inventory management system. KORONA has powerful inventory tools and features, helping you learn more about your business.

You’ll quickly see what a difference it makes through product analysis, vendor management, stock notifications, custom par levels, and more. You’ll throw out far less and save money at the same time. It’s simply a win-win. To learn more, try KORONA POS for free.

Click below to sign up for an unlimited free trial with no commitment or credit card. Why not start today!

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Written By

Michael Chalberg

Michael has long focused his writing on the world of retail and small businesses. He''s been a part of the KORONA POS team since 2018 and loves helping entrepreneurs find ways to adapt and succeed. In his spare time, you'll likely find him hiking somewhere in the Southwest.