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Walmart Waste Program Diverts Over 80%, Expanding Nationwide

Walmart’s California operations have diverted more than 80 percent of their waste from landfills, and the program that produced these results is being implemented across all of the company’s 4,400 stores, Walmart said yesterday.

The program will be put in place in all Walmarts, Sam’s Clubs and Walmart distribution centers in the U.S. Extending the 80 percent diversion rate across the country will help Walmart prevent more than 11.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, equivalent to taking more than 2 million cars off the road, the company said.

The retailer said its eventual goal is to create zero waste.

“We are proud of the progress we are making toward our zero waste goal, but realize we still have more work to do,” Walmart U.S. president and CEO Bill Simon said. “We are committed to actively finding and developing solutions that are both good for the environment and good for business.

“Through this program we are able to provide the raw materials needed to make new products, recycle millions of pounds of commodities and reduce the environmental impact of landfills,” Simon added.

Walmart began implementing and tracking its waste reduction efforts in California in 2009. The California initiative has three main components: recycling, re-use and donations.

The company recycles cardboard, paper, aluminum, plastic bags and roughly 30 other items through its “super sandwich bale” (SSB) program. In sandwich baling, loose plastic such as shrink wrap, garment bags and grocery bags are sandwiched between layers of cardboard and bundled together in bales, which are sent to certified processors for recycling. This process prevents millions of pounds of trash from being sent to the landfill and saves Walmart millions of dollars, the company says.

Items not eligible for the SSB, including wood pallets, polystyrene plastic and apparel, are sent to Walmart’s return centers for reuse or recycling. Styrofoam gets recycled into photo frames, which are then sold at Walmart stores. Last year, Wal-Mart launched a program with pet product manufacturer Worldwise, to recycle plastic bottles, hangers, bags and cardboard into items such as dog beds, litter boxes and scratching boards.

Wal-Mart also uses expired food to create animal feed, compost, and biofuel for energy production.

Walmart’s food donation program is already underway around the country, and the company says that in 2010, it donated 256 million pounds of food to hunger relief organizations. This is the equivalent of 197 million meals, the company says. By 2013, the company expects to donate more than 1.1 billion pounds of food.

Walmart also works with suppliers to reduce their packaging and increase recyclability. Reducing packaging on one of its patio sets helped Walmart use 400 fewer shipping containers, the retailer says. Collaboration with a toy supplier helped to reduce the packaging on 16 items, using 230 fewer shipping containers, saving about 356 barrels of oil and keeping 1,300 trees from being felled. This initiative will be broadened to 255 items, Walmart says.

“Walmart is to be commended for making real progress in minimizing the environmental impact of waste from its stores,” said Karen Luken, director of the Clinton Climate Initiative’s (CCI) Waste Program. “One of the key aims for CCI’s Waste Program is to reduce methane emissions from landfills, and Walmart’s initiative sends a clear message to other businesses that this is one source of emissions that can and should be addressed now.”

A video about Walmart’s waste-reduction efforts in California is available here.

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