Walmart Doubles Down on Efforts to Eliminate Plastic Waste

The retailer wants to reduce emissions by one gigaton by 2030.

By Sharon Edelson on February 26, 2019

The world’s largest retailer on Tuesday announced the ambitious goal of achieving zero plastic waste throughout its U.S. businesses.

Walmart Inc. introduced at a supplier forum “a bold new set of plastic waste reduction commitments” that are expected to impact more than 30,000 stockkeeping units as the retailer leverages its enormous private-brand program.

The plastic packaging commitments are designed to focus on Walmart’s private-label brand packaging, building on existing efforts to reduce plastic waste at Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club operations. Suppliers were encouraged to set similar packaging goals. Walmart at the supplier forum said it’s working to expand its efforts to improve the sustainability of its private-brand product packaging by increasing the recyclability of the packaging and making it easier for consumers to recycle.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based behemoth said it will work with its U.S. private-brand suppliers to: achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packing by 2025; target at least 20 percent postconsumer recycled content in private-brand packaging by 2025; label 100 percent of food and consumables private-brand packaging with the How2Recycle label by 2022; work with suppliers to eliminate the nonrecyclable packaging material PVC in general merchandise packaging by 2020, and reduce plastic packaging for private brands when possible.

Walmart encouraged national brand suppliers to make similar commitments through its Project Gigaton platform, which invites suppliers to join the retailer in projects that will reduce emissions by one gigaton by 2030.

A recycling playbook introduced by Walmart provides information on the types of plastic packaging that are more easily recycled as well as offer challenges, goals and best practices such as optimizing package design and using consumer-friendly recycling labels.

Already, Walmart has taken steps to reduce plastic waste such as recycling in 2017 151 million pounds of plastic shrink wrap globally; providing recycling bins in stores for plastic bags and film, and encouraging suppliers to include the How2Recycle label on packaging, with more than 800 participating last year.

Walmart has been a target of environmental organizations, but since the mid-Aughts, the Bentonville, Ark.-based giant has taken steps to reposition itself as a champion of sustainability. In 2005, then-chief executive officer H. Lee Scott outlined three broad sustainability goals for the company: to be 100 percent supplied by renewable energy, create zero waste and sell greener products. Scott several years later expanded Walmart’s sustainable initiatives to include sourcing and supply chain, and became the face of the company’s more conscious side.

“As a global retailer that’s set an ambitious aspirational goal to create zero waste, we fully recognize that reducing plastic waste by increasing packaging circularity is an area where Walmart can lead,” said Laura Phillips, senior vice president for global sustainability at Walmart.

The move was applauded by one of Walmart’s biggest suppliers. “We commend Walmart for working with suppliers in seeking solutions to shared problems related to plastic waste,” said Shailesh Jejurikar, president of Procter & Gamble’s fabric care division. “In setting our own plastic waste reduction goals, P&G understands that driving meaningful change in this space will require collaboration.”

“This announcement sends a positive signal to the marketplace, especially in the U.S.,” said Steve Alexander, ceo of the Association for Plastics Recyclers. “We applaud Walmart for establishing such a strong recyclable packaging goal and encourage others to pursue similar ambitions.”

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