We aim to break the link between consumption and waste, moving toward a more circular economy where materials stay in use instead of being thrown out at the end of their purpose. We have set a goal to achieve zero waste in own operations in the U.S. and Canada, by 2025, and we’re working with suppliers to use less packaging, design for recyclability and improve waste reduction systems.
In 2020, we diverted 81% of our unsold products, packaging and other materials from landfill and incineration globally. Walmart U.S. has set bold commitments to achieve 100% recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging for our private brand packaging by 2025. We’re also aiming to label 100% of that packaging with recycling instructions to educate our customers and eliminate non-recyclable packaging by the same time frame.
Read more about Walmart's waste commitment
While plastic provides numerous benefits, society has been unable to collect and manage it at the same rate as it is produced. To achieve zero plastic waste, we are working across our business, with suppliers, governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other industry leaders to:
- Optimize product packaging at Walmart and beyond, using less plastic and aiming for 100% reusable, recyclable or industrially compostable packaging
- Reduce reliance on plastic bags
- Engage customers to reduce, reuse and recycle
- Reduce operational waste
- Catalyze innovations in waste reduction systems
Plastic waste in our operations
Throughout our operations, we aim to eliminate plastic waste by reducing, reusing and recycling plastic needed to run our business. For example, we 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 an estimated 375 million pounds of plastic film and rigid plastics globally, an increase of more than 12% from 2019.
Read more about our plastics packaging topic brief in 2021 ESG summary.
Beyond the Bag
Creating large-scale change to address a global waste challenge simply can’t happen in a vacuum. It calls for commitment and cooperation from across the industry to drive change through inventive, even transformational thinking.
In 2020, we joined “Beyond the Bag” initiative as a founding partner to accelerate innovation for retail shopping bags. With funding from Walmart, Target and CVS Health, this three-year initiative is led by Closed Loop Partners with the goal of identifying, testing and implementing viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag. Collectively, Founding Partners have committed $15 million to launch the Beyond the Bag Initiative.
To learn more about our waste elimination initiatives, including our resources for reducing plastic packaging waste and market-specific waste goals, see the Walmart Sustainability Hub, Walmart Canada and Walmart Mexico.
Plastic and other packaging waste in our supply chain
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the majority of plastic packaging is single-use. To help accelerate the elimination of plastic packaging waste, we’re working with suppliers to:
- Change packaging to reduce unnecessary plastic, improve recyclability, increase recycled content
We encourage both our private brand and national brand suppliers to eliminate waste from their operations and the products and packaging they sell through Walmart, and we set specific targets for our private brand suppliers. In February 2019 we established a goal for our North American private brands to achieve 100% recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging and to use 20% post-consumer recycled content by 2025 — a goal expected to impact an estimated 30,000 items for sale.We collaborate with suppliers, retailers, the NGO community and others to help reduce plastic waste through the Plastic Waste Coalition of Consumer Goods Forum. Pact network of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
- Encourage industry adoption of new product and packaging formats, including reuse and refill options, by piloting innovative solutions with suppliers
We have encouraged suppliers to develop new product and packaging formats that can greatly reduce or even eliminate the need for single use packaging. To help our customers more easily find reusable and refillable options, on Earth Day, April 22, 2020, Walmart.com launched a new Reduce, Reuse, Recycle shop featuring a range of sustainability features that customers can sort by including reduce energy, reduce food waste, reduce plastic and recycle.
- Engage customers to educate and inspire them to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic
By working with suppliers to encourage packaging reductions, recyclability and reusability, we aim to help reduce waste for customers. To put more consumer-friendly recycling information on packaging, we have asked our private brand suppliers to label our food and consumable private brand packaging with the standardized How2Recycle® label, and we encourage our national brand suppliers to use the label as well. We also sell reusable shopping bags and provide access to in-store plastic bag and film recycling bins for customers in more than 2,900 stores.
We aspire to achieve zero waste in our operations globally, and we aim to achieve this by 2025 in four markets: Canada, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. This effort includes food waste.
The primary way we avoid food waste in our operations is by increasing the sell-through of food products. 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. These efforts have produced positive results: for Walmart U.S., we wasted 57 million fewer food units in our fresh departments in 2019 than we did the previous fiscal year, and we sold more than 256 million food units through food discount programs in 2020.
When food goes unpurchased, Walmart works to maximize its use by getting it to people and places that need it. In addition to donating food to food banks and other charities, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have donated funds to purchase equipment to increase the capacity of the charitable meal system to transport and deliver fresh food. In 2020, we donated more than 627 million pounds of food in the U.S. alone.
Finally, if food is no longer edible, we work to convert it to animal feed, compost or energy. Our stores in Argentina, Canada, Chile, Japan, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States, for example, 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.
Beyond our own operations, we also engage our suppliers and customers in efforts to reduce food loss and waste. Through Project Gigaton, Walmart encourages our suppliers to measure and report food waste; introduce practices for reprocessing, donating and recycling; and standardize date labeling, in line with the Consumer Goods Forum’s Date Labeling Call to Action. We worked with our private brand suppliers to transition to “Best If Used By” date labels (unless a food safety or regulatory reason prevents it). Based on a survey of our suppliers, we estimate 84% of our Walmart U.S. private brand food sales came from items carrying this label in 2020.
In 2019, we joined the “10x20x30” initiative, in which the 10 largest food retailers each engage 20 of their priority suppliers to halve food loss and waste by 2030. 10x20x30 takes a whole supply chain approach, with retailers working to reduce in-store food loss and waste while supporting suppliers on similar efforts.
* Based on review of material handling and waste diversion processes in Argentina, Canada, Central America (includes the countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), Chile, China, India, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, U.K. and U.S., as reported by waste vendors, food banks and stores. In cases where certified or otherwise documented weights were not available due to industry challenges, they have been estimated based on waste audits, historical data, extrapolation for similar facilities in size and scope, etc.