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Walmart's Zero Waste Initiatives

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 11/01/2016 | 4 Minute Read

The countdown is on. Walmart, the low-price superstore, has taken substantial action to divert materials from the landfill, and they plan to achieve zero waste by 2025.

“With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, the global waste problem is expected to grow as well, unless we change course. The World Bank estimated that the world produced 3.5 million tons of solid waste per day in 2010, and that amount is projected to double by 2025. That’s not simply a lot of trash, it’s a lot of lost value – as much as $2.6 trillion annually in raw materials and residual worth. Landfill waste is a double loss: wasted product, and wasted natural resources to produce the product in the first place. The world can’t afford to use up water, forests, food, minerals, fossil fuels or any natural resource in this way.”
“At Walmart, we’ve been attempting to reduce waste in our operations because we hate waste of any kind. Waste increases costs for our customers, our business and for society. As millions of tons of food, other products and packaging flow through our facilities every year, we aim not to generate any waste in the process of getting things to customers. And if we can’t sell a product, we don’t want it to wind up in a waste stream; we’d prefer to donate it, recycle it or reuse it in some way. To date, we have made good progress – by the end of 2015, Walmart U.S. achieved 82 percent diversion of materials from landfill and diverted an average of 71 percent in international markets.”
“Accordingly, we have extended our zero waste aspiration to include the whole supply chain, from farming and manufacturing, consumption to end of life. Working with suppliers, customers, nonprofit organizations and others, we're drawing on our strengths – such as our store and logistics infrastructure, our philanthropy and our connection to customers – to pursue practical initiatives that will start to build a more circular economy. To this end, we're asking suppliers to design products with more recycled content, and with reuse and recyclability in mind. We’re returning waste materials to the production stream by taking back certain products from customers and helping suppliers convert waste. We’re also collaborating with suppliers and the Walmart Foundation to encourage communities to invest in recycling infrastructure through the Closed Loop Fund and other initiatives.”

As always, Walmart wants to deliver low-cost goods, but their zero waste goal also brings along some new priorities: an optimized packaging design that will protect the goods, sustainably sourced materials, recyclable goods.

Although this is certainly a challenge, aiming for sustainability benefits the company and the environment in many ways. By eliminating unnecessary packaging for their flushable wipes alone, they were able to reduce materials by 7.2 grams—and for a retailer giant like Walmart, this adds up quickly.

It’s also good news for the consumer. Packaging Digest’s recent survey uncovered that 1% of food is wasted because it’s poorly packaged or overly packaged. Walmart began selling eggs in reusable plastic containers (RPCs) made from cardboard, and damage rates decreased—so much, in fact, that it saved 37 million eggs from being thrown out in the first year in use.

Walmart wants to set zero waste as the new standard. They launched the Sustainable Packaging Playbook, a guide to some of the best practices, like maximizing recycled content, reducing materials, and designing for an end goal of recyclability. Zach Freeze, director, strategic initiatives Walmart, stated, “Packaging is an essential part of the products that we sell. In the playbook, we talk about recyclability and making sure that messaging is clear to the customer. For us, it’s all about clear guidance. We want to provide clear guidance to our suppliers about optimizing design and supporting recycling and we want to make it easier for our customers to recycle packaging.”

“Moving toward a zero waste future benefits business as well as society. Eliminating operational waste avoids landfill fees and increases revenue from resale of salvaged materials. Reducing waste upstream, increasing recycled content and repurposing products can lower cost of goods and generate innovative products for customers. And in the long term, the preservation of natural resources enhances supply security.”

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