Responsible consumption

We are committed to reducing our waste and driving behaviours to a circular economy approach.

We manage our waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy (Prevention, Re-use, Recycle).

Our ambitions

  • 25 per cent reduction in waste generated and water used by 2030.
  • Complete a total review of purchase, distribution, use and disposal of packaging and single-use resources (both internal and external) by 2022.

Our commitments

We will:

  • reduce the volume of natural resources consumed by our operations;
  • reduce the use of single-use items across our business, and support our customers to do the same;
  • adapt our behaviours, considering the life-cycle cost and waste hierarchy before purchasing and disposing of items; and
  • keep products, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer, to minimise resource inputs and the associated creation of waste, pollution and emissions.

Our progress

During FY2020-21, Royal Mail generated 39,924 tonnes of waste, an increase of 3% from the prior year. The increase is attributed to increased cardboard and pallets associated with the increased volume in parcels over the period.

We are committed to reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill by Royal Mail. This year, less than 3% of waste went to landfill. Around 1.5% of the waste we generated during the year was considered hazardous. This waste stems from vehicle and building maintenance and cleaning products used in our buildings.

Over the last year the total amount of waste the Group reused or recycled was 31,109 tonnes, making up 76% of total waste produced. During this time, Royal Mail set new targets for responsible consumption with a focus on resource procurement, storage, material flows through the business and on improved waste segregation, reuse and recycling.

We are targeting a 15% reduction in total waste generated and water consumed by 2025, and a total review of the purchase, distribution, use and disposal of packaging and single-use resources by FY2021-22. During the year, we convened a Responsible Consumption Steering Group, sponsored by the Director of Property and Facilities Services, to develop the action plan for activities in this area.

To support the further development and implementation of the responsible consumption strategy, Royal Mail has signed up to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circulytics benchmarking tool. The use of the tool will assist us in defining our roadmap towards a more circular approach.

We baled 5,657 tonnes of cardboard during the course of the year. Baling ensures that more good-quality, usable material is fed into recycling as a raw material.

In total, 99.8% of our cardboard packaging was recycled. A recent project
within Royal Mail International sites at Heathrow, Atherstone and Feltham saw the reuse of cardboard boxes, instead of them being sent for recycling after first use. The project has resulted in over 600 tonnes of cardboard being reused over the course of the year, saving over 3,000 trees, 2 million kWh of energy and 18 million litres of water.

As part of this programme, 485 trees have been planted one for every time we place a cardboard box order, and 202 tonnes of carbon sequestered.

  • Our Green Parts programme removes all reusable parts from end-of-life vehicles, for reuse within the business or for resale to others. During 2020-21, green parts were reused within the business, saving an estimated £1.3 million.
  • During the year, we distributed new internal recycling bins and consistent signage across our delivery offices to encourage improved segregation of waste. A dedicated environment week was held in January 2021 to raise awareness of the new system.
  • GLS Italy replaced traditional wooden pallets with the use of Greenypack packaging, made up of 100% recycled material from common waste from polygrouped products. The Plastic Second Life materials used to create the Greenypack pallets are certified in compliance with Green Public Procurement (GPP) as environmentally preferable materials. In addition to their environmental credentials, the pallets are hygienic, robust and do not require additional treatments for export.

We use elastic bands to keep bundles of mail together. This year, we used around 331 tonnes of elastic bands. We recognise that the littering of elastic bands is a potential threat to wildlife and the environment, and a cost to our business. We continue to actively manage their use. We highlight best practice for colleagues in reusing elastic bands through our communication channels, to avoid unintended littering.

This year, one of our environment weeks included the ‘Great Elastic Band Challenge’, in which colleagues were encouraged to provide their suggestions for reducing or eliminating elastic band waste and littering. Further work is due in 2021-22, to trial some of the best ideas provided. This will be managed by a working group of the waste resource efficiency group.

We are committed to reducing our water use. We mainly use water for domestic purposes, such as washroom facilities, vehicle and equipment cleaning.

During the year, Royal Mail used 1,318,889m3 of water, a 7% decrease from the previous year. This was due to further strengthening of our data reporting, the identification and repair of leaks, and the implementation of water efficiency measures at our Chorley and Exeter sites. Water efficiency surveys have been undertaken at 19 of our properties, with costed recommendations provided for implementation during FY2021-22.

We have continued our work with the publishing industry in response to continued demand to reduce its consumption of single-use plastic as the material to wrap subscription magazines sent through Royal Mail. An increasing number of titles have now migrated to paperwrap. This not only provides a recyclable wrap, but also helps publishers to access our Mailmark options and attract the lowest postage prices.

Feature: The Queen's Green Canopy 

The Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC) is a unique, UK-wide tree planting initiative created to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, by inviting people to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee.” Royal Mail is proud to be the Founding Platinum Supporter of The QGC. To mark the launch, Royal Mail has planted mature trees across all nations of the UK at four Royal Mail sites. 

Read more

Royal Mail staff planting a tree at Swansea Mail Centre