Retail Hardware:  Reducing Waste and Increasing the Bottom Line

An Introduction

An urgent environmental concern

In the past, abundant natural resources were taken for granted. Today, as the population continues to increase, resources are being depleted at a rate unsurpassed in history. Because of the increasing volume of waste generated in the United States, the cost of managing waste is at an all time high.

Meeting the needs of increasingly more people with declining natural resources is an urgent economic and environmental concern. The solution lies in using fewer natural resources, reducing waste, and recycling. Practicing waste reduction helps the economy, the environment and the community.

Resource conservation is the key to reducing waste

When it comes to waste management, old answers aren't working for today's questions. But there is good news in the battle to lower operating costs and positively impact our environment. The good news is a fresh look at an old term—resource conservation.

Resource conservation includes both source reduction and recycling. Source reduction is any activity that reduces the amount of waste produced. It's different from recycling. Source reduction prevents waste. Recycling uses waste to make new products. Both help decrease waste and conserve natural resources. The key to good waste management is to first practice source reduction to prevent waste everywhere possible, and then recycle the remaining waste.

Why should hardware retailers be concerned?

Managing waste hurts the bottom line in many ways. First, there's the cost to receive packaged goods, and then a cost to dispose of the packaging. There's cardboard, wood, glass scraps, plastic film pallet wrap, aluminum cans, employee trash, paper and all kinds of containers to dispose of.

In addition, most hardware stores have an array of cleaning products, degreasers, paints, adhesives, and other products that require disposal, and that may contribute hazardous chemicals to the environment.

Wasted resources don't stop with what's in the trash. Energy, water, materials and especially labor are often wasted through normal business practices.

All of these waste management costs can be a significant portion of the slowly—but steadily—growing cost of doing business.

Why be conscientious about waste management?

Reducing waste management and waste disposal costs, improving operating efficiency and reducing materials cost can save money. The cost savings may be immediate or anticipated, based on avoiding future waste management costs.

In addition, hardware stores that have a commitment to waste reduction can gain significant goodwill and customer loyalty by serving as a waste management model in their community, and gain significant profits. Selling resource conservation products is big business. The U.S. EPA estimates that the sales of conservation-oriented products reached $100 billion in 1995—a trend that will continue to grow and provide profits for the retail hardware industry.

Three ways to accomplish source reduction

• Reduce Waste: Reduce the amount of material needed to accomplish any task      (like using less raw material, packaging or other materials), use less toxic products,     and consume less energy and water. When "less" does the same job as well or better, "less means more."    

• Reuse: Reuse the same product or resource over and over again.     

• Repair and Refill: Repair equipment or refill products because durable, long-lasting    products cost less in the long run.

Reduce waste then recycle

After reducing waste, recycle the remaining waste so it can be remanufactured into new products. As an environmentally responsible retailer, it is important to purchase products made out of recycled materials for use in the store and for sale to customers. Purchasing and using recycled-content products closes the recycling loop and insures continued markets for recycled materials while saving natural resources.

Economic benefits of source reduction and recycling

The economic and environmental benefits of source reduction and recycling can be measured in cost savings, both direct and indirect; and in environmental savings, in volume and weight of waste avoided to the waste stream. Based on the over 40 cost-effective waste management practices documented in this guide, the savings can be significant.

Any retail hardware store could see these savings

If an average hardware store with 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of retail space implemented the majority of the waste reduction activities documented in this guide for product purchasing, computer reporting, inventory management, energy and water conservation, recycling, store cleaning, office practices, and toxicity reduction, the collective waste and cost savings for that store for one year could be:

Though most of the examples in this guide are based on practices at Minnesota Ace Hardware stores, the economic and environmental benefits can apply to hardware stores at any location, in any state, or affiliated with any major hardware company, and even more broadly to most retail businesses. The "best management practices" detailed in this guide can be compared to and assessed by any hardware retailer for their applicability to that store, and can be used to prioritize any store's waste reduction efforts. Keep in mind that cost benefits and savings will vary from store to store based on unique factors; however, these practices document potential opportunities for waste reduction and cost savings for any hardware retailer.

Source reduction can work

Source Reduction—reduce, reuse, repair, and refill—followed by recycling does work. Benefits to the bottom line and the environment will the be real payback for any retail hardware store that implements the waste reduction practices documented in this guide, models these practices to the community, and encourages customers to purchase products for waste reduction.

Reducing waste, better management of the remaining waste, and conserving natural resources is the key to resource conservation. "Greening up" the hardware store's bottom line is a win:win for everyone—the store, the customers, and the environment. Like the stores described in this guide, any hardware store can reap the benefits for years to come because…

Resource Conservation Pays

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Less Waste Is Smart Business For A Better Environment .

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