Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl’s Department Stores may have issued its first sustainability report in May 2011, but the large retailer is no newcomer to sustainability. For years, the retailer has tried to improve its environmental footprint by focusing on energy efficiency, green building design and operation, greenhouse gas emissions, and the environmental decisions of its stakeholders.

Of particular interest to waste industry professionals and observers, the company has seen great success in its waste reduction and recycling efforts. It has posted high recycling rates for several years and also has received recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a leader in the purchasing and use of recycled products.

The Facts

In 2007, Kohl’s posted a recycling rate of 73.1 percent. By 2010, the recycling rate had climbed to 77 percent. That’s an impressive number, but still short of the goal the company had set for the year: 85 percent. The bulk of what Kohl’s recycled last year — 79 percent, to be exact — was cardboard and paper. Construction debris, plastics, wood, metal, bottles/cans and electronics were among the other recycled materials.

Carpet recycling is a particular area of emphasis for Kohl’s. Over the years, the company has recycled old carpet from 26 remodeled stores, diverting a total of 910,000 pounds of the material from landfills in the process. In 2010 alone, Kohl’s recycled more than 357,500 pounds of used carpet from remodeled stores. At newly built Kohl’s stores, the building materials contain about 20 percent recycled content.

Kohl’s pushes for recycled content in many of its products when it’s cost-effective, saving not only landfill space but energy, water, oil and trees, the company says on its website. For example, the store’s gift boxes and restroom papers consist of 100 percent recycled content, and its merchandise bags feature up to 35 percent. The retailer’s plastic shopping bags contain more recycled content than a standard white bag, hence the gray color.

The retailer also works on waste prevention. In 2008, Kohl’s introduced reusable shopping bags to encourage customers to reduce the number of bags used. The company also invites shoppers to bring plastic bags to any Kohl’s stores to recycle.