With an aspiration to be a zero waste-to-landfill organization by 2020, our long-term approach drives us to seek efficient business and environmental practices to reduce solid waste and the associated costs of packaging, disposal and shipping.
Our strategy goes beyond the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle” model to address challenges, such as packaging redesign to eliminate waste during the manufacturing process.
The majority of REI's waste comes from our operations, including cardboard, plastic and compostables; waste generated from new construction; and waste generated from remodels of existing REI facilities.
Because of the inability of our waste vendors to accurately quantify the weight of waste we dispose in standard roll-off dumpsters, we amended our methodology for quantifying our waste-to-landfill for these dumpsters. We now assume that each dumpster is full when emptied and we use an REI average density for landfill waste to convert this volume to an estimated tons of waste to landfill. This aligns our waste service levels and progress directly to our financial expense, and it also simplifies tracking and clarifies our progress. Prior to this, we used a methodology that estimated how full our dumpsters were (as a percentage) to chart our progress towards our zero waste to landfill aspiration.
This change improves our ability to show progress towards our aspiration, but it overestimates our actual tons of waste to landfill (in the short term) for all facilities that have standard roll-off dumpsters and makes it difficult to compare data from 2010 with previous years. We believe that achieving zero-waste to landfill across REI's operations will be measured by our elimination of landfill dumpsters, and that measuring dumpsters is the most concrete way of charting our progress.
With this new methodology in 2010, we landfilled 26 percent of our operational waste by weight (3,740 tons). Though this looks like an increase from 2009, this comes from counting all dumpsters as “full” rather than estimating the waste as a percentage of full.
Industry collaboration remains a priority for REI in addressing our waste stream. Our involvement includes the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Working Group in which a collection of organizations have teamed to systematically address packaging solutions through the development of assessment tools. Minimizing shipping packaging for the products we sell is our largest opportunity to reduce our waste to landfill.
Thanks to the diligence of our “green teams” and employees at our Sumner, Wash. and Bedford, Pa. distribution centers, both of these facilities diverted over 95 percent of their waste stream from the landfill. This achievement is even more remarkable considering the overall growth of the co-op of 14 percent (by sales) and 22.9 percent sales in our direct sales channel.
Our headquarters in Kent, Wash. continues to provide extensive recycling of commodities, including compostable waste from our café.
In 2010, we updated our contract with our waste vendor to enter into an improved strategic partnership for stores across the country, except for mall locations. This includes vendor support for individual stores to “right size” their dumpster and the identification of new recycling streams for materials such as plastic shipping bags and other challenging commodities. We believe this is a unique partnership for a national retailer and a waste hauler to collaborate on addressing waste reduction and recycling goals.
With REI locations in mall settings, we share waste and recycling services with other tenants. As a result, it can be more difficult to quantify and implement solutions.
In 2010, our construction waste recycling percentage for new stores and major remodels rose to over 59 percent, with 354 tons diverted from landfill.
By transforming our approach from an “end-of-the-pipe” mindset to regularly considering solutions throughout the manufacturing and shipping processes, we will be better able to identify, prioritize and create strategies that minimize the waste that is introduced throughout the product manufacturing and shipping processes. Some of our early work is outlined in the direct fulfillment and product stewardship sections of our 2010 stewardship report, and includes work to eliminate some plastic bags used for shipping apparel and working with industry partners to use the Eco Index to measure and manage packaging waste at the product level.
With high diversion rates at our distribution centers, our focus will continue on working for improvements in recycling services for our stores across the country.
In the coming year, we will expand our construction waste reporting to include every capital project, including those not part of a major remodel or new construction, taking a broader perspective on our waste stream.
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