Walmart’s current goal is to achieve zero waste in their Canada, Japan, UK, and US operations by 2025. The retailer’s 2018 sustainability report says that by the end of last year, Walmart had diverted 81% of its US waste from landfills, and 78% globally. Here’s a closer look at the company’s approach.
What does “zero waste” actually mean? Walmart defines it as meeting or exceeding Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) business recognition program requirements.
“In 2005, Walmart began to look at the interplay of waste and usable materials and to seriously examine our own operations, looking for ways to reduce waste of all kinds,” the company’s latest sustainability report says. “Today we have a deeper understanding of the challenges and are engaging suppliers and customers in pursuit of the circular economy.”
Their overall waste reduction strategy involves: measuring waste, reducing waste from non-food items and packaging, and reducing food waste in their operations.
Understanding waste drivers is key for the company. In FY2018, Walmart reports establishing a 2016 waste baseline for their Canada, Japan, UK, and US operations. They used the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard) developed by a partnership that includes World Resources Institute, CGF, Food and Agriculture Organization.
Tackling Food Waste
Globally, Walmart aims to reduce food waste in operations by:
- Accelerating sell-through to prevent food waste
- Donating unsold food to local food banks
- Recovering inedible food through animal feed, composting, and anaerobic digestions
Last year the company reported that their stores, clubs, and distribution centers in the US and international markets had donated 755 million pounds of food to organizations that distribute it to people in need.
In Japan, Walmart stores formed partnerships with vendors throughout the country to recycle fish traces from meal preparation and fish waste into commercial products like material for pet food. “The collected fish waste is recycled on the same day,” the company says. “In 2017, we recycled 1.1 million pounds of fish waste through this program.”
Reducing Packaging and Non-Food Waste
For non-food waste, Walmart is cutting down on materials like product packaging and also refurbishing, recycling, or donating goods that can’t be sold.
The company is attacking this type of waste by:
- Reducing material waste in operations
- Refurbishing products
- Donating products
- Moving to reusable packing containers
- Recycling products and secondary packaging
- Using reverse logistics to recycle
“We look to the Ellen McArthur Foundation approach of maintaining materials at their best and longest use,” their report says. For example, the retailer has long worked with Unarco to refurbish shopping carts. In the past three years alone, 791,000 Walmart shopping carts got refurbished, eliminating the need for 22,000 tons of metal to make new ones.
Improving recycling, especially given how fragmented the industry remains, is a continued focus for the retailer.
“In many places around the world, there is simply not adequate recycling infrastructure and even where it exists, recycling may not be financially viable,” the company points out. “We aim to catalyze the development of system-level solutions for reuse and recycling across the sector and throughout our supply chains — not just at Walmart.”