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WalMart Moves Toward Zero Waste, Becomes Big Green Giant

Megastore cuts landfill waste by 80% in California alone.  Announces plan to achieve zero waste for all stores by 2025.

Walmart green?  Don’t scoff.  The retail giant has been moving toward a zero waste policy for all stores and corporate facilities since 2005.

And they ain’t just a whistlin’ Dixie, either.

What started out as cost cutting measures to ensure financial stability in uncertain economic times has blossomed into a full-on, take-no-prisoners push toward zero waste sustainability.

In California, for example, an aggressive waste management program helped Walmart reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfills in that state by more than 80%.

Overall, U.S. Walmart stores have so far diverted 182 million pounds of plastic,12.4 million pounds of office paper and 1.3 million pounds of aluminum from landfills since beginning its zero waste initiatives.

The company began by cataloging materials that were being thrown out and beginning a recycling program for metal, fiber, and plastic.  Walmart eventually created a list of 32 items it used to make up a recycling sandwich called a “super sandwich bale.”

Invented by Jeff Ashby of Rocky Mountain Recycling, the “super sandwich bale” bundles different types of recyclables into one neat pile or bale, which makes the process easier for recyclers.  But Walmart took the concept to a new level by including 31 different types of material, including paper, aluminum, and plastics, into one bale.  The whole thing is then sandwiched again with corrugated fiber.

But the push toward zero waste didn’t stop there.  The company now also diverts a large amount of food waste successfully each year.  A big job considering that they’re the largest grocery chain in the U.S.  The company follows the EPA hierarchy for managing organics carefully, first donating food to feed people whenever possible. Next they use it to make animal feed, then comes compost. Finally, anything left is used to create energy.

The company has already reduced plastic shopping bag waste at its stores around the world, and aims to achieve a  33% overall reduction by 2013. That would mean sending 9 billion fewer bags to landfills.  The move would eliminate 290,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases and save the energy equivalent of 678,000 barrels of oil every year, too.

The company has also worked directly with vendors, such as its Great Value packaging supplier, to reduce packaging for items sold on Walmart shelves.  The packaging reduction on their Great Value yogurt containers alone has so far saved about 20 million gallons of fuel each year––and kept  about 1700 tons of packaging out landfills.  Pretty impressive, especially for such a behemoth corporation.  (Kinda like expecting the USS New York to turn on a dime.)

And Walmart isn’t resting on its achievements, either.  The company has already established a strict reporting structure to track all materials leaving its stores. This means diversion rates for a particular store or a whole region can be accessed quickly for analysis and improvement.   Which means Walmart just might be able to reach its stated goal of zero waste by 2025.

In the mean time, I’ll just grab my reusable shopping bag and bike on over to my local Walmart store for a few essentials––and a health dose of sustainability, too.

About Sebrina Zerkus Smith

Professional writer, foodie. Lupus survivor. Loves pugs, wine, days at the beach and good movies. Takes recycling seriously, but not much else. Sebrina Zerkus Smith is a Southern Gal that has been scratching the writer’s itch for nearly 30 years. Her career began in Washington, D.C., in 1987, fresh out of collage and full of ideals. While plying her trade by day on congressional reps and senators, at night she burned the candle writing features for local newspapers and national magazines. She quickly realized that her southern upbringing gave her a unique and humorous voice that resonated with her readers. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles where she pursued her dream of becoming a novelist and screenwriter. She paid her bills by working as a freelance writer for major marketing projects from studios such as CBS, NBC and Disney. Realizing that the future of writing lay with the internet, she was bitten by the blogging bug back in the 90’s, back before it was even called “blogging.” Then it was still just writing and trying to make a living. Through those early blogging years, Sebrina found passion and purpose. Over the past 10 years she has written articles for clients such as LightCues.com, MatterMore.com, Greenopolis, MacAddict, Yahoo, CNN and more. Today, Sebrina writes about a variety of topics including the Southern Experience, sustainability, clean water, food, gardening, sleep and her obsession with pugs. She is a regular paid contributor to WildOats.com as well as other entities. She now lives in Houston with her husband Jeff and their pug Newton. She hopes one day to complete her opus, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed.


2 thoughts on “WalMart Moves Toward Zero Waste, Becomes Big Green Giant

  1. This is great news, but what about the other, unethical, aspects of what they do? For instance, their treatment of female workers, that they almost directly support child labour, and the other widely accepted indiscretions they take part in? Are the wonderful green aspects enough to balance out the obvious human rights violations? Please understand that I’m thrilled that they’re introducing these green initiatives, and are clearly doing an excellent job! My concern is that shopping with them to support these things will also support their undesirable practices.

    Posted by Amanda | August 16, 2011, 3:47 pm
  2. Thanks for this post. If you’re anywhere near Mission Viejo then you have got to go to The Shops at Mission Viejo for your back to school clothes. They, in conjunction with the city and Waste Management are offering a Super Recycler award to retailers. http://youtu.be/UysU018cxCE

    Posted by Recycle 2011 (@recycle2011) | August 28, 2011, 8:52 am

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