Walmart / Sergey_Yechikov, Shutterstock_157365593An executive from the world’s largest retailer says the company is aiming to give suppliers concrete details in its mission for more sustainable packaging – and recycling is playing a major role in that process.

“For the first time, we’re being a little bit clearer on some of the aspects of sustainable packaging,” Zach Freeze, Walmart’s director of initiatives-sustainability, said in an interview with Resource Recycling. “Communicating recyclability is an important part.”

Walmart today held an event called the Sustainable Packaging Summit at its corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. The gathering brought together merchandising decision-makers from Walmart and Sam’s Club with representatives from the brands that line the miles of shelves at Walmart-owned stores.

The event follows up the company’s 2014 Sustainable Product Expo. That 2014 meeting launched the Closed Loop Fund, an effort to use corporate dollars to help lift the municipal recycling system and bolster the supply of recycled materials that Walmart’s suppliers told the company they needed.

While Rob Kaplan of the Closed Loop Fund presented at the recent summit, much of the activity was geared toward connecting consumers to the recyclability of packaging they buy.

Guide for suppliers

Suppliers at the summit, for instance, were issued a copy of Walmart’s recently created Sustainable Packaging Playbook, a 20-page guide to help suppliers better understand what buyers in Bentonville are looking for as they embark on the company’s efforts to reduce the environmental and social impacts of packaging. According to the playbook, Walmart has three priorities in the sustainable packaging arena: optimize design, source sustainably and support recycling.

The retailer’s playbook encourages suppliers to make use of labels that clearly communicate the recyclability of products, specifically recommending the How2Recycle label from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). It also pushes suppliers to increase their use of recycled content.

Furthermore, Walmart is recommending that packaging makers consult with SPC and the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) to help ensure that packaging innovations can be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure. Both SPC and APR were involved in packaging design breakout sessions at the Walmart summit.

Freeze made it clear that Walmart believes it can connect with today’s consumers by offering products that can be easily diverted from the waste stream.

“We know customers care about recycling, and it’s really our job to try and make it easier,” Freeze said. “Our hope is to make it a little bit simpler through some of this messaging. Recycling is something we want to continue the drumbeat on.”

‘Shows us how we’re doing’

The playbook also mentions on several occasions the sustainability index that Walmart has been using to help it assess the environmental impacts of different products and packaging that appear in Walmart stores. “The index tells us what’s important and shows us how we’re doing on this issue,” said Freeze.

He noted packaging recyclability is a category that was added to the index last year. Suppliers are currently in the process of completing surveys that will be used to create updated index scores. Freeze said that results will be available in December, and at that time the company will for the first time have year-over-year figures on recyclability and recycled content.

The Walmart executive also said the retailer is set to become more vocal about specific challenges material additives are bringing to the plastics recycling space. Additives aimed at biodegradability are being used in some plastic products, and that step can disrupt the plastics recycling process.

“We’re going to be very clear about eliminating biodegradable additives to petroleum-based plastics,” Freeze said. “What we want to try to do is keep a consistent message to customers. We want to encourage that behavior of recycling, and we want customers to know the packaging can be recycled.”


Van Dyk