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Improve procurement

Save money by buying smarter and disposing of less. 

Procurement can help reduce impact on the environment from purchase through to disposal of goods. 

Purchase costs for even basic office equipment and supplies are predicted to increase as natural resources become scarce and manufacturing costs increase. Waste disposal costs are also on the increase due to the landfill tax escalator, so it pays to find ways of buying smarter and disposing of less.

Below you will find ideas to help you start reducing the amount of money you spend on procurement and waste disposal:

1. Share equipment.

Does everyone in the office really need their own stapler, their own hole punch, or their own calculator? A central location for storing items such as these can cut down on the number you need to procure, and ultimately, to pay to dispose of at the end of life.

2. Have a stationary amnesty.

It’s difficult to know what stationery is actually in an office - it’s not always all in the stationery cupboard. Having a quarterly stationery amnesty enables you to figure out exactly what is present in the office so you can have a better idea of what you need; making sure that purchases are only made when necessary.

3. Redistribute equipment and furniture.

Keep an inventory or asset list of your unused furniture and equipment in your department so that procurement staff can check against tis list before a new purchase request is authorised,

4. Assign one person to stationery ordering. 

Make sure that all stationery orders go through one person to help avoid duplicated orders.

5. Replace bottled water with water coolers attached to the water supply.

This will reduce service charges incurred from the use of bottles, transportation and packaging. Removing stored water bottles from the office environment may also help release space and improve the working environment for employees. While you are it, if you use bottled water, consider using refillable glass bottles and jugs for water instead.

6. Specify re-usable packaging.

Packaging take-back schemes and the use of re-usable transit packaging are being provided by more and more suppliers of goods and services. The schemes reduce the amount of packaging that an organisation has to manage once the product is delivered. Examples include bakery products, fruit and vegetables delivered in stackable, returnable plastic trays, and milk and dairy products delivered in returnable steel cages on wheels.

Speak to your suppliers and arrange a return facility for crates, pallets and boxes. You can also look to re-use packaging materials, such as cardboard boxes and bubble wrap, as a means of storing items and delivering goods to other companies. And if try not use new envelopes for internal mail – re-use envelopes to save on purchase and disposal costs.

7. Use refillable containers.

Whenever possible, use refillable bottles or containers instead of individually wrapped single use packets. You can of course do this very easily for simple things like condiments (such as sauces, vinegar, sugar and salt), but there are other opportunities to introduce refillable containers more widely into your workplace. For example, refill services for printer cartridges are readily available and are usually more cost-effective than buying brand new cartridges.

8. Purchase concentrated cleaning products.

Concentrated cleaning products can be diluted on site and dispensed in re-usable bottles. Concentrated products contain less water so can reduce packaging by over 50%. Liquid detergent and handwash are examples of concentrated or refillable products. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on concentrated cleaning products correctly and make sure that you use the right amounts of these products. They are often easier to transport and require less storage space.

9. Use rechargeable batteries.

Use rechargeable batteries and a battery charger. This saves energy as the energy needed to manufacture a battery is, on average, 50 times greater than the energy it gives out. While typically more expensive to purchase, rechargeable batteries can be recharged many times. Rechargeable batteries are available from most office suppliers.

10. Re-use staff uniforms.

Scottish Government research suggests that 50% of uniforms and textiles disposed of by organisations are re-usable without repair 2. If your staff wear uniforms, you should consider setting up a proactive return-of-uniform policy for when individuals leave your employment. This will increase the supply of uniforms for re-use and save you buying new uniforms when they are not needed. In addition, to extend the lifetime of staff uniforms, try to ensure that they are repaired (in house where practicable) as often as possible before disposal is considered as a last resort.

11. Buy durable products.

Some products are designed to have a reduced overall environmental impact. These products are usually energy efficient; are designed to last longer; and can be cleaned, repaired, upgraded or recycled more easily.

Consider whole life-cycle costs when making purchasing decisions. Consider how long alternative products will last, and how much end-of-life disposal costs will be rather than automatically choosing goods with the lowest price tag. This will help you identify the best long-term value. For example, a light bulb that’s cheap at the point of purchase may cost more to run over its lifetime than a more expensive energy efficient bulb.

Avoid using disposable products such as plastic cutlery and single-use cups as your organisation will need to purchase new materials frequently, which is costly and creates waste. Instead, provide staff with durable products such as metal cutlery, glasses and ceramic mugs for drinks consumed in the work place. Check that the settings on your hot drinks vending machines can be changed to accept the new mugs.

If you have meetings or other events, consider hiring products like glasses and plates rather than buying single-use products.

12. Review stock control.

Stock control is used to show how much stock you have at a point in time and how to keep track of it. Almost everything you use to make your products and provide your services is part of your stock, from raw materials, unfinished goods, finished goods and consumables (such as stationery).

Good stock control processes will help you to reduce waste costs – for example, by quickly showing when you have too much stock, particularly for perishable products with a short shelf-life.

You should review your stock regularly to see if products could be bought more efficiently. By carrying out weekly stock reviews, you can avoid over ordering and highlight slow-moving stock. You should also have a procedure to identify excessive amounts of any product so that these can be returned to the supplier where possible or used before they go out of date.

Make sure that all staff are carrying out stock rotation with every delivery of new stock too. You may need to train them in how to do this and you could put up reminder notices in the stockrooms to prompt staff to take stock from the front and to check the dates when stocking up the service area.

Finally, check that your storage area is dry, clean and kept at the proper temperature and humidity to avoid damage or contamination that could degrade the materials.

12. Buy goods in bulk.

Buying in bulk can be very economical for some goods. By monitoring your wasted stock, you can determine what goods would lend themselves to bulk ordering. Ordering small quantities will generally always be better for goods that have a short shelf-life or are not used in large quantities.

Purchasing goods in bulk or in large containers can also prevent packaging waste by reducing the number of small, empty containers that need to be disposed of. Another advantage is fewer delivery miles, so less fuel is used and less pollution is emitted into the atmosphere.

You should make sure you have adequate storage space before you buy in bulk and that you can store large amounts of the item without it being lost or damaged over time. If you do not have space, you may still be able to save money overall by buying in bulk and then paying a fee to your supplier to store your goods until you need them. You should consider any health and safety implications from buying in bulk, such as moving heavier containers on site or spillages.

13. Lease equipment.

Consider whether leasing equipment or hiring services would be more cost-effective than outright purchase. This may be especially beneficial when procuring information and communication technologies (ICT), such as computers, office telephones, mobile phones and printers, and electrical and electronic equipment, such as air-conditioners.

Often, contracts for leasing or hiring equipment are combined with regular maintenance contracts, supply of accessories and spare parts, and periodic replacement with new energy efficient models. This can eliminate the need to buy, maintain and, ultimately, dispose of equipment, while minimising environmental impacts.

If you do not want to lease equipment, consider purchasing used and refurbished equipment. Alternatively, consider sharing seldom-used machines or equipment with other organisations in your area. You can also consider leasing or hiring staff uniforms instead of buying them outright. Generally, the leasing company will be responsible for all alternations, repairs and replacements.

14. Install hand dryers.

Install hand dryers in toilets rather than providing paper towels. It may marginally increase energy costs, but it will eliminate the cost of purchasing paper towels and reduce paper towel waste disposal costs. Alternatively, if dryers are too expensive, consider using efficient paper-towel dispensers, which allocate one sheet at a time to avoid overuse or use a roller towel cabinet.

15. Undertake a supplier packaging audit.

A packaging audit is an examination of the impact of your supplier’s packaging on your organisation, your waste and your costs. It is a very useful activity to carry out for materials you purchase regularly, such as the top 20 items ordered. These ordered goods should be assessed to identify if any have excessive or unnecessary forms of primary, secondary or tertiary packaging.

If excessively packaged goods are identified, contact the supplier informing them of the packaging audit and ask them to confirm that they have made efforts to minimise the amount of packaging they use on their products. A reduction in packaging waste could be achieved if you work with your supplier to:

  • eliminate and reduce packaging where it is excessive;
  • optimise pack dimensions so that the maximum amount of product is contained in it;
  • reduce unused space in packaging;
  • make packaging that is retail-ready – that is, it is packaged with the labels and merchandising/branding so that additional packaging is not required;
  • reformulate products (such as liquid to powder); and
  • ensure that packaging can be recycled or returned.

To help you approach your suppliers on the topic of resource efficiency and packaging waste in particular, we have prepared a letter template. This can be downloaded, personalised and sent to your suppliers should your packaging audit reveal that you are being supplied with goods with excessive packaging.


If you would like support with an existing project or just want some impartial advice on improving your procurement, then please call 0808 808 2268, or email us at enquiries@resourceefficientscotland.com. We are here to help you for free.

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