Waste: circular economy

SASB: CG-MR-410a.3; CG-HP-410a.1.v; FB-FR-150a.1; FB-FR-430a.3; FB-FR-430a.4
GRI: 301-2; 306-1; 417-1
UN SDGs: 2, 12, 15
E | Last Updated: July 7, 2021

Our aspiration

Our aspiration

We aim to break the link between consumption and waste as part of a movement toward a circular economy, meaning a transition from a “take-make-dispose” approach to one that values the reuse and regeneration of materials. We aspire to achieve zero waste in our operations, and we work with suppliers, customers and communities to accelerate the adoption of circular packaging and products.

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Key goals & metrics

Walmart’s waste metrics are based on calendar year (CY) unless otherwise noted.

Operational Waste 23
Metric
CY2018
CY2019
CY2020
Goal: Zero waste24 to landfill and incineration in our operations in U.S., Canada, Mexico, U.K. and Japan markets by 202525
Percentage of waste materials diverted from landfill and incineration per country
U.S.: 81%U.S.: 82%U.S.: 82%
Canada: 87%
Canada: 88%
Canada: 88%
Japan: 77%Japan: 78%Japan: 79%
U.K.: 85%U.K.: 85%U.K.: 89%
Mexico: 75%
Global waste diversion26Percentage of waste materials diverted from landfill and incineration globally78%80%81%47
Global waste destination mix27Approximate percentage of waste by destination type

Recycling/reuse: 68%

Donation to people: 5%

Animal feed: 3%

Composting: 1%

Anaerobic digestion: 1%

Incineration (with and without energy recovery): 1%

Landfill: 21%

Recycling/reuse: 71%

Donation to people: 4%

Animal feed: 3%

Composting: 1%

Anaerobic digestion: 1%

Incineration (with and without energy recovery): 1%

Landfill: 19%

Recycling/reuse: 70%

Donation to people: 5%

Animal feed: 4%

Composting: 1%

Anaerobic digestion: 1%

Incineration (with and without energy recovery): 1%

Landfill: 18%

Food waste recycled28 Pounds of food waste diverted globally from waste stream through composting, animal feed, anaerobic digestion and biochemical processing
>950 million pounds
Food donatedPounds of food donated globally>720 million pounds>680 million pounds>745 million pounds
Packaging (metrics below are measured in weight and based on supplier reports) 40
Goal: Achieve 100% of U.S. general merchandise private brand primary plastic packaging is free of PVC by 2020Estimated percentage of U.S. general merchandise private brand primary plastic packaging
~97%29~99%30
Goal: Achieve 20% private brand plastic packaging in North America31 is made of post-consumer recycled content by 2025Estimated percentage private brand plastic packaging in North America made of post-consumer recycled content
7%329%33
Goal: Achieve 17% of global private brand plastic packaging is made of post-consumer recycled content by 2025Estimated percentage of global private brand plastic packaging made of post-consumer recycled content
9%349%35
Goal: Achieve 100% of global private brand packaging is recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable by 2025Estimated percentage of global private brand packaging that is recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable
~55%3659%37
Total weight (global packaging)
Estimated total weight of private brand primary plastic packaging, including plastic bags (globally)
>1,200,000 MT38>1,400,000 MT39
Consumer engagement 
Consumer recyclingPounds collected through customer recycling programs at Walmart in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Japan and the U.K.267>24 million pounds>26 million pounds>18 million pounds
Goal: 100% of our Walmart U.S. food and consumable private brand primary packaging labeled with the How2Recycle® label by 2022Percentage of sales with label as reported by suppliers

Walmart U.S.: 50%41

Sam’s Club U.S.: 38%41

Walmart U.S.: 57%42

Sam’s Club U.S.: 67%42

Supplier engagement
FY2019
FY2020
FY2021
Project Gigaton™Number of suppliers reporting progress on the waste and packaging pillars of Project GigatonTM
>1,000

See all data and progress toward goals and commitments in our ESG Data Table.

Relevance to our business & society

The World Bank estimates that global municipal waste will increase from 2.01 billion tons in 2016 to 3.40 billion tons in 2050, with at least 33% of it not managed in an environmentally safe manner, creating economic and environmental costs for communities, government and businesses.

Millions of tons of food, products and packaging move through Walmart facilities every year; wasting any of it ultimately increases costs for everyone. Stakeholders want us to eliminate waste in our own operations while also engaging suppliers and customers to help reduce waste upstream (in product production) and downstream (in households), moving toward a circular economy.

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The Ellen MacArthur Foundation outlines three principles of a circular economy: design out waste and pollution; keep materials in use; and regenerate natural systems. We have an opportunity to implement circular economy principles throughout our operations and our value chain.

Walmart’s approach

To move toward our zero-waste43 vision, we work on eliminating waste in our own operations while engaging suppliers, customers and others to reduce waste in the value chain, with a focus on the following:

  • Operational waste: Achieving zero waste44 in U.S., Canada and Mexico by 2025 by addressing secondary packaging, unsold food and general merchandise and other items such as automotive waste and signage
  • Food waste in the value chain: Reducing food waste in our operations globally, while encouraging suppliers and customers to reduce food waste and supporting local food recovery/hunger relief programs
  • Product packaging waste: Optimizing packaging, reducing reliance on plastic bags and using labeling to help customers to reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Customer engagement: Providing customers ways to buy gently used products, buy sustainably and recycle more
  • Local infrastructure for recycling and reuse: Investing in local infrastructure to enable adoption of recycling and reuse solutions

Key strategies & progress

Operational waste | Food waste in the value chain | Product packaging waste | Customer engagement | Local infrastructure

Operational waste

Primary sources of waste within our operations—stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers, truck fleet and data centers—include secondary packaging like cardboard and plastics, unsold food, unsold general merchandise, automotive waste and assets like signage, shelves and carts.

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We set market-specific goals to achieve zero waste45 by 2025. Globally, we diverted more than 81% of waste from landfills and incineration in 2020.46

Secondary packaging

Throughout our operations, we aim to eliminate waste by reducing, reusing and recycling the secondary packaging (e.g., cardboard, plastics) needed to run our business.

Because of our size, small changes can make a big difference. In addition to having a well-established program to recycle corrugated fiberboard in our facilities, we are using reusable packaging containers to ship produce, fruits and eggs and eliminate single-use packaging. We also contract with vendors to collect and recycle rigid plastics and plastic film produced from our operations and returned from customers. During 2020, we recycled more than 375 million pounds of plastic film and rigid plastics globally, an increase of more than 12% from 2019.47

Read more: Waste: Plastics

Food waste

To reduce food waste in our operations, we focus on increasing the sell-through of food products and diverting unsold food from landfills, putting still fresh food to use for meals in the community or other purposes such as animal feed, composting or anaerobic digestion.

To reduce our proportion of unsold food, we have strengthened our forecasting and ordering tools to improve inventory flow, adjusted store fixtures to increase product turnover, enhanced distribution centers and offered discounts on food that is close to its expiration date. In FY2021 Walmart U.S. sold 256 million food units through food discount programs (862 million since FY2019).

When food goes unsold, Walmart works to get it to people and places that need it. In FY2021, we donated more than 627 million pounds of food in the U.S. alone.48 In addition to donating to food banks and other charities, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have provided funds to increase the capacity of the charitable meal system to recover and distribute fresh food. In 2020, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation contributed over $13 million in grants to support Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks in the U.S.

If food is no longer edible, we try to convert it to animal feed, compost or energy. For example, our stores in Canada, Central America and the U.S. send a portion of their food waste to anaerobic digestion plants, which break down the food into gases that can be used as fuel and fertilizers.

Unsold general merchandise and assets

Walmart works to reuse or repurpose fixtures, products and materials in our facilities and daily operations that are not intended for purchase by customers as well as unsold general merchandise.

For example, in 2020, we refurbished 8.3 million pounds of decks, shelves, uprights and other store fixtures in the U.S.

Walmart invests in and partners with Good360, a nonprofit that helps companies responsibly distribute donated goods to nonprofits that need them. We partner with the organization in our U.S. stores to distribute unsold products to nonprofits in communities where we operate.

Food waste in the value chain

Our initiatives to reduce food waste are designed to span the entire food supply chain, including implementing best practices in our retail and distribution operations (see the operational waste discussion above) as well as working with suppliers and NGOs upstream and empowering consumers downstream as follows.

Food recovery upstream & downstream

Over the past five years, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have made over $32 million in philanthropic investments in innovation and capacity building along the value chain to help recover food from landfill and incineration at the farm, retail and consumer level. Philanthropic investments have focused on the following:

  • Tools to measure food waste
  • Behavior change among producers and consumers to reduce food waste and gain access to food
  • Technology and transportation capacity to facilitate more efficient food recovery
  • Innovative approaches to distribute fresh food more quickly to people in need, such as re-processing food and connecting food providers with organizations who are able to distribute it

Walmart leaders also serve on the boards of many organizations who work in food recovery, including Feeding America and Food Banks Canada.

See below for examples from Walmart Canada. Learn more about our philanthropic initiatives in food recovery at Walmart.org.

Walmart Foundation efforts to reduce food waste in Canada

Since 2015, the Walmart Foundation has provided almost $20 million in funding to reduce food waste and increase access to fresh food along the food value chain in Canada, complementing Walmart Canada’s donations of unsold food to Food Banks Canada (which totaled more than 10 million pounds in 2020, for example). Philanthropic investments included:

  • Research into the drivers of food waste and loss across the supply chain in Canada to focus philanthropic and business efforts
  • Innovation in food recovery, including a grant to Second Harvest to scale foodrescue.ca, a platform that connects food donors to local nonprofits that provide food and meals 
  • Local initiatives led by organizations such as Daily Bread Food Bank, Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society, Sources Community Resources Society and Guelph Community Health Centre to recover fresh, perishable food, prevent food waste and serve communities 

As a result of our philanthropic commitment achieved this year in Canada, grantees estimate at least 40 million pounds of food have been recovered—not only avoiding food waste and increasing food for consumption but, in so doing, helping to avoid approximately 70,000 metric tons of CO2.

Engaging suppliers to reduce food waste

Walmart engages with suppliers and others in the food industry to accelerate progress on reducing food waste in value chains.

  • Through Project Gigaton™, Walmart encourages our suppliers to measure and report food waste and introduce practices for reprocessing, donating and recycling. To date, more than 1,500 suppliers have set goals related to waste through the Gigaton platform.
  • In FY2020, we joined the Champions 12.3 “10x20x30” initiative, as one of the world’s 10 largest food retailers engaging 20 of our priority suppliers to halve food loss and waste by 2030. Focusing on the produce value chain, we have recruited and engaged more than 20 of our suppliers in best practice discussions to accelerate and report progress.
  • We encourage suppliers to standardize date labeling, in line with the Consumer Goods Forum’s (CGF) Date Labeling Call to Action. This includes using the standard term “Best If Used By” on packaged-food labeling if the date is simply related to optimal quality rather than safety, in which case the standard term is “Use By.” We estimate that in FY2021, 84% of our Walmart U.S. private-brand food supplier-reported sales came from items carrying “Best if Used By” or “Use By” standardized date label.49
  • Walmart is a member of the Consumer Goods Forum’s Food Waste Coalition of Action, working with other retailers and suppliers to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels, and reduce food loss along production and supply chains, including at the post-harvest stage, by 2030. We are also a signatory to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions program.

Product packaging waste

We are working with our suppliers and the broader retail consumer packaged goods industry to optimize packaging. Our ambition is to accelerate a transition to 100% reusable, recyclable or industrially compostable packaging.

As a starting point, we have set a goal to achieve this ambition for Walmart private brand packaging by 2025; we are currently at 59%. We are also working with North America private brand teams to achieve 20% post-consumer recycled content by 2025. Globally, we seek to have 17% of Walmart’s global private-brand plastic packaging made of post-consumer recycled content by 2025; our progress is 9% for both our North America and global goals.50

Our product packaging initiatives also include efforts to reduce reliance on plastic bags, engage customers to reduce, reuse and recycle and improve local recycling infrastructure to make it easier for customers to recycle plastic.

Read more: Waste: Plastics

Customer engagement

We are taking steps to encourage our customers to participate in the circular economy.

  • Launching a new partnership in 2020 with thredUP to provide pre-owned clothes: An online consignment and thrift store founded in 2009, thredUP helps people be part of the circular economy by creating an easy way to buy and sell pre-owned clothes, shoes and accessories, thereby giving the items new life and keeping them out of landfills. Our partnership allows thredUP to select “new,” “like new” or “gently used” items from its inventory to sell on Walmart.com/thredUP where our customers can shop with free returns available in our stores. The offering has grown to over 2 million pre-owned quality items from more than 2,000 national brands available to customers at up to 80% off estimated retail price.
  • Providing customers an opportunity to recycle: In many of our stores around the world, Walmart offers customers the opportunity to recycle. Through in-store customer recycling programs in Argentina, Chile, Japan, Mexico and the U.K., we collected more than 18 million pounds of recyclable materials in CY2020. In the U.S., Walmart provides access to in-store plastic bag and film recycling bins for customers in more than 2,000 stores.
  • Helping customers more easily find reusable and refillable options: We are piloting reusable and refillable product packaging in our operations. We have learned from our operations in the U.K., where Asda collaborated with some of the U.K.’s best-known brands to launch its first “test and learn” sustainability store in Leeds to find new ways to reduce plastics and encourage customers to reuse and refill. The Leeds-based store became the first Asda in the U.K. where shoppers can fill up their own containers with products, including Asda’s own-brand coffee, rice and pasta.51
  • Offering our electronic trade-in and refurbishment programs in the U.S.: In partnership with CExchange, Walmart runs a trade-in program for qualifying technology (e.g., cell phones, tablets, game consoles, video games and voice speakers). Customers can send unwanted pieces of technology to CExchange for resale and recycling in exchange for online gift cards. Also, we offer ecoATM kiosks to make it simple and convenient for consumers to sell back used smart devices. In CY2020, we collected 2.7 million devices for reuse and recycling through ecoATM machines. Walmart utilizes four refurbishing centers across the U.S. where we send returned and damaged phones, tablets, TVs, computers and game consoles so they can be repaired and resold at a discount. In FY2021, we sent 3.9 million electronic items for refurbishing.

Local infrastructure

Because a circular economy requires infrastructure to recover and reuse materials at end of life, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation make philanthropic investments focused on catalytic innovation, piloting promising solutions and best practice sharing. Examples of Walmart Foundation investments include:

  • Beyond 34, a multi-stakeholder initiative led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation aims to advance the circular economy in cities and regions across the U.S. by providing a scalable model to identify and implement high-impact waste solutions tailored to local needs.
  • Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund provides below-market rate loans to finance projects that build out circular economy infrastructure in the United States.
  • Accelerating Circularity, an organization that designs and pilots textile-to-textile reuse and recycling across the Eastern U.S., aiming to reduce the millions of tons of textile waste that go to landfills each year.
  • The Recycling Partnership, helping 10 U.S. cities, representing 1.3 million households, to implement lessons learned from TRP’s 50 Cities Leadership Summit related to developing infrastructure, fighting contamination, communicating with residents and capturing materials curbside to divert waste from landfills.

Learn more at Walmart.org.

Challenges

  • Walmart is one actor and achievement of our zero-waste aspiration is dependent on many factors, including the availability and quality of recycling, composting, and waste management infrastructure where Walmart operates and in customer communities. Walmart also depends on the availability of recycled content in quantities sufficient to meet needs and at competitive prices. These industries are fragmented, limiting options to scale solutions.
  • Success requires associates, suppliers and customers to be engaged. Frontline associates have competing business priorities, including inventory management and customer service, and sourcing and merchandising associates must balance a number of factors in making decisions about products. Suppliers must be willing and able to implement product design and packaging options consistent with Walmart's objectives, and customers need to be engaged in positive, circular action, overcoming low customer recycling and reuse rates.
  • Walmart’s business will continue to evolve and grow. This growth and changes in our model may require an expansion of our footprint, which may create pressure on our targets. Moreover, customers have certain expectations regarding product design and packaging that must be met.
  • In many areas, the public policy environment does not support waste prevention, management, recycling, including through a lack of incentives to scale alternatives that reduce waste. Moreover, balkanized laws and regulations across Walmart's operational footprint limit our ability to scale single solutions.
  • Innovative materials and product designs are needed. Single-use plastics are currently necessary for health and safety and optimal for cost and convenience; alternative materials that do not cause other environmental harms do not yet exist for all use cases.
  • Walmart’s scale poses challenges. The capital and operating costs of implementing waste management technologies can be high, and it can be difficult to scale waste management processes, tools and behaviors across thousands of facilities in multiple countries.
  • National and global catastrophic events, including pandemics, can exacerbate many of the above factors.

Additional resources

Revision History
October 5, 2021 – Revised estimate of global private brand packaging that was recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable in CY2020, as well as total weight of private brand primary plastic packaging, including plastic bags based on supplier reports. The revised estimate resulted from (1) changes to the methodology of the Reporting Guidelines for The New Plastics Global Commitment in 2021, which requires Global Signatories to report data for primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging; and (2) adoption of a market level approach for our proxy data calculation, rather than a global approach. The prior estimate followed the Reporting Guidelines for 2020, which did not require retailers to report on secondary or tertiary packaging. A market level approach was adopted to achieve improved consistency when calculating our proxy data estimates. Walmart is a member of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, and prepares its packaging estimates in reference to Global Commitment Reporting Guidelines.