Walmart rolls out playbook for evaluating packaging sustainability

New sustainable packaging priorities to coincide with zero-waste goal

Retail giant Walmart will begin using a voluntary labeling system on food and consumable products to help customers understand how to recycle packages.

Laura Phillips, Walmart’s Senior Vice President for sustainability, said last week during the company's Sustainable Packaging Summit that "How2Recycle" labels will appear on its private-brand packages. The system was created by industry group Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC; Charlottesville, VA) with the goal of reducing the amount of packaging that is thrown away.

According to statistics cited by Walmart, more than 35 million tons of packaging were discarded in 2013 and only 14% of plastics were recycled. The retailer said 90% of customers want to recycle, but 67% indicate it would make it easier to recycle if the product was better labeled.

“We believe a best practice is to use labeling that helps customers recycle, such as the How2Recycle label, to communicate the recyclability of a package. The How2Recycle label is also a great conversational tool between merchants and suppliers to discuss if a package is designed with recyclability in mind.” Jack Pestello, SVP, Private Brands, Walmart U.S.

“We cannot understate the importance of the support of retailers like Walmart in the How2Recycle program, who are leveraging their influence in the supply chain to make a true difference to support the accuracy of recycling claims,” says Kelly Cramer, Senior Manager at SPC. “We very much look forward to welcoming more suppliers to How2Recycle in the near future.”

Also at the summit, which was attended by several hundred suppliers, merchants and NGO partners, Walmart released a comprehensive 20-page Sustainable Packaging Playbook for its suppliers gathered from 10 years of experience working toward a reduction in packaging across its supply chain as part of its zero-waste aspirations.

The playbook gives an overview of sustainable packaging best practices for suppliers interested in improving and innovating packaging. While the focus is on consumer-facing packaging, practices may impact or also be applied across the entire packaging system.

The priorities of the playback encourage suppliers to:

Source sustainably: maximize recycled and sustainably-sourced renewable content, while enhancing the health of the materials they use in their packaging.

Optimize Design: find ways to reduce unnecessary packaging materials, such as extra boxes, ties or layers, while maintaining what is necessary to protect the product.

Support recycling: increase use of recyclable content, while working to improve infrastructure for hard-to-recycle materials; as well as clearly communicate recyclability using consumer-friendly labels, such as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s How2Recycle label.

To date, Walmart has made good progress towards its zero waste goal—by the end of 2015, Walmart U.S. achieved 82% diversion of materials from landfill and diverted an average of 71% in international markets.

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