Retail Hardware Best Practices for Waste Management


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A Project Supported By:

The WATER Foundation

Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

Ace Hardware Corporation

Minnesota-Dakotas Retail Hardware Association

July 1998

For more information on this project, contact:

Paula West or David Winkelman, The WATER Foundation, PO Box H2O, Brainerd, MN 56401   (800)-944-3764  E-Mail:

Ken Brown, Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, 520 Lafayette Road North, 2nd Floor, St. Paul, Minnesota 55155.  (612) 215-0241   E-Mail:


Table of Contents

  1. Project Background
  2. Reducing Waste and Increasing The Botton Line: An Introduction
  3. Reduce Waste
  4. Reusing Waste
  5. Recycling Waste
  6. Profiles of Participating Hardware Stores
  7. Waste Assessment Checklist
  8. How To Establish A Source Reduction Program
  9. Waste Reduction Resources
  10. Recycled-Content Products
  11. Waste Reduction Survey:  Ace Hardware Corporation
  12. Waste Reduction Survey: Minnesota-Dakotas Hardware Association Survey



Project Background

The Water Foundation, a 501(c)3 environmental education corporation located in Brainerd, Minnesota, received a grant from the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (OEA) to research, identify, and document cost/benefits of "best management practices" for waste reduction and pollution prevention in the operation of a retail hardware store. The pilot program was implemented in partnership with the Minnesota-Dakotas Retail Hardware Association and the Ace Hardware Corporation. This guide, Retail Hardware Best Practices for Waste Management, is a management tool for hardware retailers throughout the United States.

Four Minnesota Ace Hardware stores participated in the year-long pilot project. They include Henricksens Ace Hardware, North St. Paul, Minnesota; Frattallones Ace Hardware, Arden Hills, Minnesota; Denny & Kathys Ace Hardware, St. Cloud, Minnesota; and Ace Hardware, Alexandria, Minnesota. They represent a cross section of retail hardware operations from a smaller retail store (7,000 square feet) to an eight-store retail hardware group.

A technical team from the OEA, the Minnesota Waste Wise Program, and The WATER Foundation conducted on-site waste management surveys at each hardware store. The surveys assessed the amount of waste generated and potential handling improvements; current waste minimization practices; transport packaging; improved efficiency for lighting, energy and water consumption; products used for building maintenance; and purchasing patterns.

Following the on-site visit, an optimal waste reduction and pollution prevention plan was developed for each store. Over 40 waste management practices were monitored and documented at the pilot stores for cost and waste savings (in weight and volume), and are detailed in this guide. Employee training on waste reduction was conducted at each store using Ace Hardware's retail training video, Environmental Best Practices For Retail Profit, which was produced by the Ace Hardware Corporation in conjunction with this project.

A waste management survey was sent to members of the Minnesota-Dakotas, Iowa, Eastern, and Midwestern Retail Hardware Associations, and to over 5,000 Ace Hardware dealers. The survey documented conservation practices and the amount of waste produced and disposed of in the retail hardware industry as a baseline for this project. It also identified profitable waste reduction practices as a model for other retailers. Tabulated surveys are included in this guide.

This guide describes strategies, methods, products and cost/waste benefits at the pilot stores and other retail hardware stores identified through the survey process. It is hoped that this guide will be a tool to encourage hardware retailers to incorporate environmental responsibility into their business operations and "green up the bottom line" through costs savings in materials purchasing, waste disposal, labor, and utility use. Through the project it is clear that hardware retailers can conserve natural resources by optimizing waste management practices, and through their influence on the buying decisions of customers, to improve and preserve the environment for future generations.



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


Less Waste Is Smart Business For A Better Environment .



Best Management Practices for

Waste Reduction

Reduce, reuse, refill, repair, then recycle to reduce operation costs and conserve natural resources


red_sym.gif (892 bytes)Prevent Waste at its Source

Reduce waste by using less material


red_sym.gif (892 bytes)Buy plate glass in wood billet crates

Henricksens Ace Hardware, North St. Paul, Minnesota (12,000 square feet of retail) buys plate glass in wood billet crates rather than stocking 40 to 50 different sizes of precut plate glass. One sheet of billet glass can be used for multiple glass cuttings; therefore, less glass is wasted than when using pre-cut glass.  The glass in billets costs 36 percent less per square foot than pre-cut glass, and it requires less storage space than the boxes of pre-cut glass.  Cost savings are realized in the purchase cost of glass and the amount of glass purchased; avoided labor costs to knock down the pre-cut cardboard boxes; avoided waste disposal costs of glass; avoided cardboard disposal; and avoided wood packaging waste because the empty billets are given away to customers.  A loading dock and forklift are recommended to receive the heavy billets.

Volume of waste avoided 44 cubic yds/year of wood & cardboard; 99% volume reduction   1 cubic yd/year of glass;  50% volume reduction
Weight of waste avoided: 7 tons/year of wood & cardboard; 99% weight reduction.        750 pounds/year of glass; 50% weight reduction
Cost savings: $3100/year;  37% cost savings