Efficient resource use​

We are reliant on a range of natural resources to deliver our products and new processes and technologies have enabled us to become highly efficient at maximising the value that we can derive from them.

Waste and circularity

As a first step, our businesses aim to avoid waste generation as far as possible, and reuse and recycle waste where they can. Some of our businesses also explore energy recovery solutions for any remaining waste. Landfill and other final disposal techniques are always the last resort.

We are focused on making finite resources go further, believing that waste materials are often a resource that we can find a use for. With that in mind, our businesses are implementing practices to reuse, recycle or reduce food, plastic and/or textile waste. For example, we do not just make sugar. Our sugar facilities are highly efficient biorefineries that play a key role in other sectors’ value chains. We turn sugar beet and sugar cane co-products and by-products into animal feed and chemical products, as well as using it to generate renewable energy. We also use on-site anaerobic digesters to generate biogas from our waste streams.

In Retail, Primark has made a commitment to giving its clothes a longer life. Its ambition is to drive forward innovation and collaboration within its industry to make its clothes last longer and reduce clothing waste.

Our food businesses avoid products going to waste by donating surpluses to food banks, community groups and charities.

Across the Group, we generated 520,608 tonnes of waste in 2023 which is an 11% decrease compared with the 584,845 tonnes generated in 2022. Of the total generated, 83% was sent for recycling or other beneficial use. Our businesses continue to focus on reusing waste materials where possible. 

This year, 11% of all our production sites achieved zero waste to landfill and 37% recycled or reused 95% or more of their total generated waste.

Plastic and packaging

As a leading provider of food, ingredients and clothing, packaging contributes significantly to our environmental footprint. Paper is the main packaging material used across the Group, followed by plastic and glass. We also use wood, steel, aluminium and a number of other materials.

Though we fully recognise the harmful effects of plastic waste on ecosystems, plastic currently plays a vital role in both food safety and reducing food waste, by extending the shelf life of food. Our challenge is to use plastic materials responsibly and find solutions which balance the needs of our customers and our desire to minimise our impact.

Our businesses aim to achieve this by removing unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging, switching to more easily recyclable types of plastic and increasing the use of recycled content in the plastics we use.

In 2023, our businesses used 246,683 tonnes ∆ of packaging compared with 267,638 tonnes used in 2022. This is an 8% annual decrease even though tonnes of production from Group operations increased by 3%. There has been a decrease in the use of all the packaging materials, including plastic, steel, glass and paper, which remains the main packaging material used. Tonnes of plastic used as a packaging material has decreased by 9% this year and demonstrates the commitment of our businesses to reduce the use of plastic where appropriate. 

Water use

Our businesses aim to reduce the amount of water they abstract, to reuse process water as much as possible and to return treated wastewater to nature, having ensured it meets or exceeds local and national water standards, and protect aquatic ecosystems.

We have carried out annual water risk assessments for our operations using internationally recognised methodologies to identify the sites operating in water-stressed areas.

We use a range of technologies in our operations to manage our water use in fields and factories, and constantly work to further reduce our water footprint per tonne of product we produce.

This year, the Group collectively abstracted 860 million m3 ∆ of water for use in operations and irrigation, an 8% increase compared with last year. This rise is driven by three of Illovo’s estates which account for a significant proportion of the Group’s total water abstraction. Their increase in water abstraction, which is primarily used for cane irrigation, is aligned with their increase in tonnes of production from their operations for this year.

For more information please see our 2023 Responsibility Report.

Responsibility in action: our supply chains

Our material topics

We recognise the need to understand the ESG issues most relevant to our operations, our industries and our stakeholders.


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