RLA News & Views

Walmart’s Would-Be Role as Circular Packaging Matchmaker

August 22, 2022

With a new circular economy lead in place as of March, Anastasia Smolina, Walmart is stepping up its focus on recycling and reuse on multiple fronts — with packaging squarely in its sights.

Walmart embraced the idea of using 100 percent recyclable packaging for its private brands back in 2016, with the goal of reaching that mark by 2025. In 2019, it changed the focus to include reusable and industrially compostable packaging in the mix and to use at least 17 percent post-consumer recycled plastic content for its private brands. According to its latest progress report, Walmart has reached 55 percent of its overall packaging goal; it has hit a 9 percent level for post-consumer recycled content. Reducing the amount of materials used for any physical item is also a big focus for the company.

"In packaging in general, pretty much every buyer in Walmart works with my team on how we reduce or replace," said Jane Ewing, senior vice president of sustainability for the retail giant. "If we knew what we know today 20 years ago, when some of these products were developed, then they wouldn’t have been developed in the same way."

As an example, Ewing pointed to the company’s single-use macaroni and cheese containers, which it is transitioning to fiber-based cartons that are compostable. Another practice Walmart’s sustainability team is encouraging: the elimination of the small plastic windows some packages use to let a consumer peek at the item inside. Instead, images are placed on paper versions.

Walmart is seeking to promote these ideas to other consumer products companies through an online tool called the Circular Connector, launched by Walmart in April as a global resource for companies seeking more sustainable packaging options. Since its introduction, Circular Connector has received more than 100 submissions from innovators hoping to meet their match, said Ashley C. Hall, director of sustainable packaging for Walmart.

"The idea is to bridge the gap between companies that are looking for good packaging ideas and those that offer them," she said.

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