Although only a little more than 4% of our total, calculated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from waste, teams throughout our business work to implement cost-effective strategies and processes to responsibly manage the waste materials resulting from our business operations. As with energy and operations logistics, we have a diverse group of waste management experts dedicated to monitoring and improving our performance. We have implemented initiatives in our stores, distribution centers, and home offices to reduce, reuse, and recycle as we strive to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
On a global level, we encourage collaboration across geographies to share best practices in waste operations, data collection, and strategy. In 2017, our global waste management stakeholders collected data to calculate our fifth global waste, GHG emissions footprint and diversion rate (that is, how much waste is being diverted from landfill).1 We included waste GHG emissions data in our scope 3 emissions report for the first time in our 2016 CDP Climate response. We use the insights developed through our global waste data collection process to identify opportunities to improve our recycling and waste minimization efforts.
In addition to our diversion rates, through our data collection in 2017 we found:
We have learned that waste disposal programs work better when they are flexible and can adapt to our many different store configurations, as well as to the regulatory or legislative requirements in different regions. As our programs mature, we are working to find solutions for the responsible disposal of many different types of materials in our waste stream and are continuously considering new solutions to avoid sending materials to landfills.
Only 4% of our total GHG emissions comes from waste
Like many retailers, cardboard and other materials used to package our merchandise for shipping to our stores constitute the most significant volume in our waste stream. Throughout our geographies, we have many initiatives that address reduction, reuse, and recycling of many of these materials beginning with suppliers, through to our distribution centers, and on to the stores. We strive to include environmental impact analytics in the selection process for packaging materials where feasible.
In 2017, a cross-functional team comprised of U.S. Logistics, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls Store Operations, and Distribution Services Associates piloted a project to maximize packaging re-use by leveraging our Asset Recovery and Recycling Centers (ARRCs) and their related distribution network. The team’s goal was to reduce the cost of corrugate purchases and lessen the environmental impacts of shipping, while still protecting merchandise as it travels to the store. Over the course of the year, the group implemented physical and process changes with the ARRCs and the distribution center network, which resulted in the return of reusable corrugate and plastic totes from our stores to the pilot distribution centers. As of the end of 2017, we had successfully transferred over 536,000 reusable units of packaging materials through this pilot. We continue to assess the feasibility of implementing this across our broader network.
In the past, we analyzed the lifecycle impacts of some of our internal-packaging and fragile-packing materials in our T.J. Maxx and Marshalls distribution centers, as well as the impact of using plastic totes versus cardboard boxes in the U.S. We analyzed the impact of removing plastic bags from our packaging of liquid products during shipping from distribution centers to stores. The solution that we implemented utilizes a more easily recyclable material and corrugated box inserts and resulted in an estimated 11 million fewer plastic bags being used across our distribution network each year. Additionally, this packaging solution is being included in our re-use pilot and in 2017, we brought back over 7,500 items to our distribution centers as a result.
Across geographies, we have introduced recycling programs to many stores for common items like cardboard, plastic, paper, aluminum, and glass. To reduce the creation of waste, the majority of our store reports, training materials, and policies are available electronically. Additionally, in 2017 in Canada, we expanded a pilot project for recycling Styrofoam (polystyrene) and are pleased with the results of diverting approximately 28,000 kilograms of waste from the landfill. For customers, we offer reusable bags for sale in our stores. In Europe, customers can purchase reusable bags, under our “Bags for Life” program, and a portion of the proceeds goes to one of our charity partners.
Virtually all of our distribution centers include designs to simplify the reuse and recycling of the corrugated cardboard we receive from our vendors. In addition to cardboard, some of our distribution centers have systems in place to recycle other materials, such as scrap metal, pallets, paper, glass, plastic, aluminum, and organics.
In the U.S., our ARRCs are located within many service centers and serve as a central destination for regional recyclable or reusable store material. Select stores send used corrugated cardboard, plastic, excess hangers, store fixtures, display cases, unused boxes, and other supplies to their local ARRC, where the items are processed for reuse in other stores or recycled. As of 2017, we operated 18 ARRC locations in the U.S., including four new sites. These ARRCs service about 60% of our T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores, and we plan to continue to open new locations that broaden this service across the nation.
The flexibility of the ARRC organization enables us to test new programs as we strive to increase the types of materials that can be included in our recycling stream. For example, as our global waste stakeholders have identified Styrofoam as a key area of focus, our ARRC organization and network provides the operational testing sites for the Company to implement new technologies that enable better recycling of this material. In this pilot project, we used machinery that compresses and melts Styrofoam into blocks, which are then sent to recycling centers for reuse. In 2017, we were able to divert 21 tons of Styrofoam from landfills, and we expect to continue growing this program in the future. Thanks to this initiative and many others, in 2017 alone, the ARRCs helped divert more than 56,000 metric tons of waste from landfills. We are committed to expanding ARRCs across the nation to support our business.
In 2015, our two distribution centers in Canada were awarded the Recycling Council of Ontario’s 3R Silver Certification for outstanding policies and performance in responsible waste management. We encourage waste reduction and recyclability through our procurement policy, and have improved our diversion rate year over year for the last three years. In 2017, we achieved a combined 95% diversion rate in our distribution centers!
We are pleased to report that in 2017, our European processing centers diverted 90% of their waste from landfill. They are recycling waste streams that include plastic, wooden pallets, and cardboard, and now backhaul cardboard and plastics from select stores in the U.K. to processing centers. We continue to look for opportunities to add more stores to the trial and for closed-loop initiatives to support enhanced environmental performance. In the U.K., we also have an Asset Recovery and Recycling Center, which acts as a central destination for storage and distribution of excess hangers, store fixtures, display cases, and more.
In many of our offices, we recycle close to 100% of white paper from our waste stream. Some of our offices have additional recycling programs to manage cans, bottles, batteries, plastic wrap, plastic items, corrugated cardboard, and printed materials.
In our global headquarters buildings in Marlborough, Massachusetts, as well as our Canadian and European corporate offices, we have removed waste bins from Associates’ workspaces and installed centrally located recycling bins for Associates to use. In these buildings we also use cups, plates, napkins, and utensils that are either made from 100% compostable materials or are fully recyclable, and we have organic waste programs. We monitor the success of these programs with our janitorial and Office Services staff and make adjustments to improve where necessary.
Although our business operations are not water intensive, we believe reducing water usage is consistent with both our low-cost operating philosophy and our commitment to environmental sustainability. To that end, we are continuing our efforts to monitor our water usage and identify opportunities to improve water efficiency in our operations. For instance, our Energy Management group in the U.S. collects water usage data to identify opportunities for improvement. We use time-sensor technologies to control faucets in many of our restrooms, and, in the U.K., we monitor our direct water usage and work to reduce consumption in all stores. We have also benchmarked our consumption against similar retailers and evaluated our average daily usage for stores.
Additionally, our TJX Vendor Code of Conduct strongly encourages our vendors to conserve and protect resources, such as water and energy, and also take into consideration environmental issues that may impact their local communities. Environmental concerns are incorporated into our vendor social compliance training materials as well, introducing high-level concepts of environmental sustainability like water conservation. Our training includes specific cost-saving, water-conservation recommendations for our suppliers that they may consider implementing at their production facilities. We plan to continue including similar relevant water facts during future training sessions.
1For TJX, diverted waste is either recycled or sent to facilities that convert waste to energy (w2e).