PSS AWARDS WINNER: Best Waste/Recycling Project – HMRC


Not long ago, it was estimated that around one in seven letters delivered in the UK came from H.M. Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Since then, we’ve changed our process to eliminate c.100 million letters and the carbon emissions associated with transporting them, cut 1.3 million sheets of paper each year through reducing the number of paper-based tax return reminders, and procured 170 million fewer sheets of paper for internal use. In addition, our ‘closed loop’ system recycled 3,500 tonnes of waste paper back into copier paper for use in our printers.

Paper is a big contributor to our achievement in reducing waste by 62% since 2010 and diverting 97% from landfill.

This nomination explains what HMRC has done to tackle its paper mountain – not only in the amount of paper sent to and received from our customers, but also in internal paper usage, waste, costs and associated emissions.

About us and what we do

HMRC is the UK’s tax, payments and customs authority; we collect the money that pays for UK public services and help families and individuals with targeted financial support. We are one of the UK’s largest organisations, with around 58,600 full-time equivalent employees.

We’re one of the biggest government departments, with a customer base extending to almost every adult in the UK. We collect tax and duties from 49 million individuals and more than 5.4 million businesses, and pay tax credits to 4.4 million households and Child Benefit to 7.4 million families. Every year, we collect more than £500 billion in tax revenues.

This activity has traditionally been driven by paper-based systems; paper has been one of our biggest outputs and a major environmental overhead. We were determined to change that and we have done so by embracing digital technology, engaging with our customers to support them in interacting with us in different – paperless – ways, and encouraging our employees to move, wherever possible, to paperless ways of working.

Our objectives were to:

  • meet customer and stakeholder expectations on how they receive information from HMRC and improve the customer experience by embracing the digital agenda
  • use an array of communication channels to develop and encourage greater use of electronic customer interaction
  • change employee behaviours by encouraging people to adopt more environmentally sustainable and cost-effective ways of working, including printing less and printing double-sided
  • use a system of ‘closed-loop’ recycling so that waste printer and copier paper is recycled into new paper for our machines
  • save money on paper purchases and cut waste
  • address reputational issues associated with environmental performance and support the ‘Greening Government’ commitments on paper usage and waste.

We measured success through:

  • reductions in the amount of paper used in both internal and external communications, and cost savings
  • customer take-up of electronic communications
  • the volume of paper put through the ‘closed-loop’ system and persuading others to follow our lead.

What we did

Our approach involved a mixture of:

  • campaigns and coordinated communications to change behaviours
  • changes to internal operations and the introduction of new digital channels for service delivery
  • sharing best practice to persuade other parts of central government to recycle waste paper through a ‘closed-loop’ system.


With our customers:

  • We moved HMRC’s website to GOV.UK to provide a fully-integrated online service. We receive more than 50 million ‘hits’ per month, many of which are saving on letters, printed leaflets and paper correspondence.
  • We delivered 650,000 customer interactions through webinars, instructional videos and apps, reducing significantly the need for paper-based communications. We also provided our customers with help via Twitter, and our online assistant ‘Ruth’ who has so far answered 1.8 million queries about VAT, tax credits and charities.

Within HMRC:

  • Our Executive Committee-level Environment Champion provided senior leadership, to give the paper saving +visibility at Board level and communicate its importance to all staff.
  • We sent regular messages to our employees, encouraging them to take simple steps to reduce their personal paper usage, for example:
  • using the ‘print preview’ function to print only the required parts of a document
  • making sure email addresses and signatures run horizontally rather than line-by-line down the page
  • storing information on shared computer drives, to reduce the need for printing.
  • We harnessed the influence of our 500 ‘Green Volunteers’, to spread the ‘think before you print’ and ‘share papers at meetings’ messages. Other communications included a staff poll to find out why people print, combined with ‘print cold-turkey weeks’, where whole teams pledged to go print-free.
  • We produced a quarterly online magazine – The Green Room – to encourage staff to use fewer resources, and used environmental ‘events’ such as Climate Week, to provide tips.



With our customers:

  • We reviewed 1,600 customer forms, scrapping 550 of these entirely and converting 190 to online i-Forms. We also redesigned many of our letters and forms to fit on fewer sheets of paper.

Within HMRC:

  • We delegated budgets for paper procurement to business areas, so that the costs of paper use were felt more keenly at a local level.
  • We set annual paper reduction targets across HMRC and for each individual business area and our Executive-level Performance Committee monitored progress monthly, keeping a strong financial focus on paper reduction.



We were the first department to introduce a ‘closed-loop’ paper recycling scheme, and we led the way – using case studies and impactful presentations – in encouraging other government departments to join us. Closed loop ensures that waste paper is transformed into desktop-quality recycled paper, for reuse.



With our customers:

  • HMRC’s four-year media campaign, ‘I found inner peace when I did my Tax Return online …’ incorporated UK-wide print, radio, online and interactive, digital escalator and bus shelter panels, and encouraging taxpayers to interact with us electronically. This saved paper, reduced waste and cut the environmental impacts of transporting letters, forms and printed guidance.

Within HMRC:

  • We developed innovative, interactive data ‘hub slides’ for business leads to pinpoint areas of risk, for example teams or individuals with high single-sided, colour or A3 printing.
  • We introduced a Managed Print Service, which defaults to double-sided printing, and dual-monitor computer screens which enable staff to work on multiple documents, eliminating the need to print.
  • We developed a bespoke Environmental Waste Calculator to enable employees to calculate the cost of using paper and printing and the carbon savings from reducing their personal and team usage.



These changes have delivered massive reductions in our paper usage, waste arising, along with carbon and cost savings, and improved customer service.

Paper reduction and carbon savings:

  • Our Self-Assessment campaign contributed towards 89% of customers filing their tax returns online in 2015-16.
  • By redesigning our processes, we’ve stopped 25 million unnecessary letters (for example coding notices to people with no tax liability) being issued.
  • We’ve saved 1.3 million sheets of paper by not issuing paper Self-Assessment reminders.
  • One million small businesses have signed up to our outbound email service, massively reducing paper-based correspondence.
  • We’ve reduced the number of VAT returns printed each month by 85%, from 200,000 to just over 30,000, as part of a campaign to encourage electronic filing.
  • We’ve saved c.100 million letters being transported across the UK through redesigning our processes, sending ‘support and advice’ emails and using our virtual assistant ‘Ruth’ to answer 1.8 million queries about VAT, tax credits and charitable giving.
  • In 2015-16 we printed 21 million fewer sheets of office copier paper than in the previous year, and a reduction of 369 tonnes in waste sent to landfill.

Cost savings:

  • We procured 170 million fewer sheets of paper for internal use – equivalent to approximately 20,000 trees – saving us more than £864,000 in paper procurement costs and waste; savings that benefit the taxpayer, by making better use of public money.

Customer service:

  • The shift to online services has improved accessibility, providing our customers with services at a time to suit them, and reduced businesses costs. From individuals to multi-nationals, HMRC’s customers have benefitted from the move from paper-based to digital information, which has speeded up the way they deal with us, making it easier for them to meet their tax obligations.


  • HMRC was the first government department to introduce a ‘closed-loop’ system for paper recycling, with more than 3,500 tonnes of paper put through the system annually. The environmental benefits are 60% less energy and 50% less water than ‘virgin’ white paper. 17 other departments followed our lead, with the ‘closed-loop’ system which we pioneered.


Future plans

We’re working to transfer all our tools and tax calculators to GOV.UK and to expand our Twitter customer service.

  • The replacement of the annual tax return in favour of a single, digital account will further reduce our paper-based correspondence.
  • We’ve introduced ‘Google Share’ to allow multiple editing of documents and savings in version printing.
  • We’re also leading a cross-government pilot, involving 14 departments, to ensure that unwanted government assets are re-used, rather than sent to waste. The pilot uses an eBay-style format, allowing departments to offer unwanted office supplies, stationery and furniture to others, free of charge.