Recycling Within the Retail Industry

The UK is a consumer society, even a throwaway society. Even though recycling has been administered by UK local authorities since 2007, in the last two years the issue has been brought into sharper focus. The world’s political powers commitments to halting climate change and the ongoing release of ever more shocking statistics have made everyone more conscious of the damage being done to the environment. 

While individuals can do “their bit”, the High Street has a major investment in the positive impact of recycling and the subsequent influence on customer behaviour. Let’s have a look at some of the ways the UK’s retailers are recycling. 


Simply because of the value and size of the food market, there is intense focus on wastage and recycling by UK supermarkets. Most of the supermarkets are signed up to either WRAP or the Courtauld Commitment to reduce waste and they all have various actions underway to reduce packaging, the use of plastic, and food waste. 

Plastic free in Wirksworth
say no to plastic in Wirksworth

Because of their size, supermarkets are able to make use of the best recycling technology such as balers and compactors. According to research conducted by QCR, the biggest waste stream for the majority of businesses is cardboard. Not only are supermarkets recycling, they are also doing it efficiently because baled items are collected by recyclers rather than waste management companies. 


A Swedish-owned high street chain with more than 260 stores in the UK, H&M combats its own fast fashion not only with a range of sustainable clothing but also with a global recycling scheme. 

Introduced in 2013, the scheme accepts clothing of any brand.  All items are either reused, re-worn, or recycled and nothing is sent to landfill. People giving donations of clothing in-store are rewarded with a £5 voucher to use against their next purchase. 


Another fashion retailer following the same recycling programme as H&M is Levi’s. Since 2016, customers are able to drop off a bag any brand of clean, dry clothing or shoes in a specially installed collection box in Levi’s stores. In return, the customer receives a voucher for 10 per cent off future Levi’s purchases. 

This is a popular model among fashion retailers. As well as H&M and Levi’s, lingerie specialist, Intimissimi and Calzedonia, the Italian legwear and beachwear store, also offer discounts in return for donated fashion items for recycling. 


A retailer for whom recycling is their business is going even further. Oxfam began selling second-hand and unwanted items in its shops back in 1948. In September 2019, there have been two significant moves to further the recycling cause. 

The first is that Oxfam has opened a huge out-of-town style superstore charity shop opposite its headquarters in Oxford. The second is “Second-hand”. This initiative draws attention to “fast fashion” and encourages consumers to not buy any new clothing for the month. 

Oxfam is also in partnership with Marks and Spencer. The scheme is called Shwopping. In exchange for donations of M&S branded items of fashion or soft furnishings to Oxfam, the customer is given a £5 voucher off their next M&S purchase over £35.

Cosmetics and Toiletries Recycling

A number of high profile beauty retailers run recycling programs. 

The Body Shop: Runs an in-store recycling scheme tied to a loyalty program. Love Your Body™ Club members will receive a reward worth £5 when they return any 5 of our empty bottles, tubs, tubes or pots.

Lush: This natural beauty products company has always had an eye on the impact on the environment of toiletries and cosmetics and uses as little packaging as possible. In their recycling scheme, customer who return five empty Lush pots receive a free face mask.

MAC: The Back to M-A-C program rewards customers with a free lipstick for the return of six primary packaging containers. 

Kiehl’s : Kiehl’s recycling is linked to their loyalty scheme. Customers receive a stamp for every empty full size product returned to the store and when 10 stamps have been collected, they receive a free travel-sized product to the value of up to £9.


Still in their infancy, the popular Swedish furniture giant runs two side by side schemes in 2019. A textile recycling programme has been operating in some stores since 2017 and will be rolled out to all UK locations. Ikea has introduced the trial sale of used, patched-up furniture in its Edinburgh store which will be copied in Glasgow in June 2019., again with the intention of a national rollout. 

Ikea is also supporting the increasing trend for furniture recycling. In the company’s greenest store in Greenwich, there is space set aside for workshops where customers can learn how to refurbish furniture.


The constant upgrades and new generations of phones, tablets, and laptops has spawned a massive consumer electronics industry but some major players offer recycling schemes. 

Apple’s UK stores will accept any qualifying Apple device which is then either refurbished for resale or broken down into the materials which can recycled. Customers are rewarded with a gift card.

Microsoft will accept old laptops, tablets, phones, and gaming consoles in their stores and give the customer store credit if the item has resale value. Items without value have their data wiped and are recycled. 

It is easy to choose a retailer who has a responsible attitude towards recycling. It is now a brand principle important to consumers, so most retailers will post their commitments and recycling programs on their websites. 

Ruby Clarkson - writer, editor, animal lover and coffee enthusiast

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”