The environmental movement has come a long way since the days of Aldo Leopold, and more corporations are stepping in to do their share.
Major retailers like Walmart generate mountains of waste each year; it’s only fair that they start contributing to the solutions, rather than just the problems.
But, is Walmart making an impact, and is Walmart zero-waste? Here is your answer!
Is Walmart Zero Waste In 2023?
As of 2023, Walmart is not yet zero-waste. However, in 2005 the world’s largest retailer announced they would aim for zero-waste operations by 2025. According to the company’s 2018 Global Responsibility Report, the majority of Walmart’s waste diversion has been accomplished by recycling and donation. Additionally, Walmart also sells a range of zero-waste products.
To learn more about Walmart’s Zero Waste program, what kind of recycling programs the company has in place, and what Walmart does with its unsold food, find all the details below!
What Is Walmart’s Zero Waste Program?
Lee Scott, who was CEO of Walmart in 2005, revealed to the world his company’s intention to reduce their landfill-bound waste to zero.
The task of developing that program went to Vonda Lockwood, who had the Environmental Defense Fund looking over her shoulder the whole time.
Their program eschewed incineration as a waste diversion method and focused on reusing and recycling.
More specifically, they aimed to do that by “measuring waste, reducing waste from non-food items and packaging, and reducing food waste in their operations.”
By 2011, Walmart had diverted 4.6 billion pounds of cardboard, and partnered with Feeding America to divert millions of pounds of food to mouths that need it.
By Walmart’s 2018 Global Responsibility Report, the company announced it had also cut 20 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the air.
To encourage environmental action from their suppliers, Walmart created their Walmart Sustainability Hub online.
Here, their suppliers and partners can create an account on the site and “manage participation and reporting for Walmart’s major sustainability initiatives.”
The site also offers helpful tools, like tips for reducing waste and how to calculate reduced emissions.
You can also learn more about Walmart’s overall global sustainability initiatives here, their Global Responsibility page.
Does Walmart Sell Zero Waste Products?
Walmart does not sell a great deal of zero waste products (you’re more likely to find those at a Whole Foods or your local co-op), but some items have popped up.
One example is from this Redditor, who found zero/low-waste soap bars on the shelves.
Admittedly, that’s not a huge selection, but some inspiring writers have published guides on making your next Walmart trip as close to zero-waste as possible.
At ZeroWasteNerd.com, the author recommends bringing reusable bags, making a list and sticking to it (no impulse purchases), and buying produce that isn’t packaged.
If items must come packaged, she recommends at least trying to avoid plastic. Items in glass, aluminum, and cardboard (all of which can be recycled easily) are best.
And best of all, since Walmart carries hundreds of thousands of items, you will have more options to pick from in order to make the best choice!
Does Walmart Have A Recycling Program?
Walmart used to partner with Waste Management for a robust recycling program that allowed for drop-off of clean glass, plastic, different metals, and paper products.
Bins that collected these kinds of recyclable materials could be found in some lucky community Walmart parking lots.
However, Walmart and Waste Management phased out these programs.
It appeared that citizens, rather than taking advantage of the convenient system, were trashing it instead.
A writer from the Mountain Jackpot News was concerned after their bins were removed, and they decided to reach out to Waste Management.
According to the representative they spoke to, the lack of people following proper recycling instructions, as well as the expense to maintain and access the bins, was not worth it.
Walmart does still recycle plastic bags and bottles, however.
You can learn more about that below, or visit this page!
Are Walmart Bags Biodegradable?
Walmart’s regular plastic grocery bags are not biodegradable, however, many stores offer bag recycling on-premise, and all sell reusable bags.
When Wasilla, Alaska banned single-use plastic bags in 2018, Walmart pivoted with the rest of the retailers in the area.
They started handing out biodegradable bags on the first day of the ban, but planned to go on and charge 10 cents each.
Those bags, however, have not been made widely available (yet).
Walmart is moving to a bagless system in some markets, too.
In Mexico, over 70 percent of Walmart stores no longer offer bags.
And the company launched a pilot program in Vermont, to test the feasibility of a bagless Walmart chain in the U.S.
Walmart also co-sponsored the Beyond the Bag Innovation Challenge, a contest to find a sustainable solution to the “bag program” that currently plagues our planet.
Nine winners offered submissions that ranged from digital (impact tracking, incentivized apps, etc.) to the chemical, with seaweed and starch-based compostable materials.
Can You Recycle Plastic Bags At Walmart?
You can recycle your plastic bags at Walmart by taking advantage of Walmart’s partnership with the How2Recycle program.
Many Walmart stores have How2Recycle bins placed near the front entrance.
Shoppers can drop off their grocery bags, produce bags, newspaper bags, zipper sandwich bags, and most plastic wraps (as around a package of bottled water or paper towels).
Even better, you can recycle plastic pouches, like your dishwasher detergent pods come in, and mailer pouches that all your Amazon purchases arrive in!
It’s not just Walmart in one the action, too; you can also find How2Recycle bins in front of some Targets, Lidls and Wegmans stores.
For even more information on Walmart’s on-premise recycling drop-offs, check out this article.
What Does Walmart Do With Unsold Food?
Food waste is an enormous problem in the U.S., representing 30-40 percent of the total food supply.
Walmart, as the leader seller of groceries in the U.S. can affect huge change in this area, and they have taken up the mantle.
Since their original 2005 initiative to reduce food waste, Walmart has fine-tuned its operations to include three key strategies:
- Improve supply chain operations so that less food waste is created in the first place
- Donate perfectly good food past its selling date to people who need it
- Convert non-edible food to animal feed, compost or fuel/fertilizer
In 2008, when there was almost no infrastructure upon which to reduce their food waste, Walmart went ahead and built their own.
This benefitted not only the company but provided a framework for other businesses to join and contribute to the efforts.
Additionally, Walmart has created more uniform “Best if Used By” labeling system on all of their products when possible.
This makes it easier for us shoppers to know that the date on the packaging doesn’t mean food has to be thrown out; it’s just past its peak freshness.
Walmart is making strenuous efforts to achieve its zero-waste goal, set in 2005, for the very-soon 2025 deadline.
Consider their bag recycling programs in many stores, to their food waste reduction advocacy, to their reduced carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.
Walmart is using their position of enormous power to try and create a more sustainable presence on this planet.