walmart store
Photo courtesy of Walmart

Walmart to cut virgin plastics use

Company pledges a 15 percent reduction in its packaging by 2025 following engagement by As You Sow.

October 8, 2021

Walmart has pledged to reduce the use of virgin plastic in its packaging by 15 percent by 2025. The company made the announcement at its sustainability milestone summit following engagement with As You Sow, a Berkeley, California-based nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy. The company agreed to set a plastic reduction target in May following the filing of a shareholder resolution by As You Sow.

In 2019, the retailer announced that it will work with its U.S. private brand suppliers on a number of commitments related to its packaging:

  • seek to achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging for its private brand packaging by 2025;
  • target at least 20 percent postconsumer recycled content in private brand packaging by 2025;
  • label 100 percent of food and consumable private brand packaging with the How2Recycle label by 2022;
  • work with suppliers to eliminate the nonrecyclable packaging material PVC (polyvinyl chloride) in general merchandise packaging by 2020; and
  • reduce private brand plastic packaging when possible.

In a post on Walmart’s website, Jane Ewing, senior vice president of Sustainability, writes in part, “One year ago, Walmart set a goal to become a regenerative company—one that places nature and humanity at the center of our business.”

She adds, “Now as we work to go beyond sustainability to restore, renew, replenish and preserve our planet, we are working across our business to tackle issues related to climate, nature, waste and people in our supply chains.”

According to a news release from As You Sow, Walmart says it will work to achieve the plastic reduction through increased use of recycled content, elimination of unnecessary material, redesign of packaging and exploration of reuse models. The company’s plastic packaging footprint includes private‐brand packaging, shopping bags, operational packaging and e-commerce packaging. The reduction will likely approximate a 180,000-ton reduction out of 1.4 million metric tons of plastic packaging it used in 2020, according to its most recent environment, social and governance report, the nonprofit says.

Ewing writes that goal to reduce Walmart’s virgin plastic use is “part of our work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to shift to a circular economy—and is in addition to our existing target to achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable private-brand packaging by 2025.”

“The company has set a significant initial goal to reduce the use of virgin plastic,” says Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow. “We encourage other companies to step forward and make bolder, larger absolute cuts in overall plastic packaging. Reducing virgin plastic use is a good start, but cuts in total plastic use have a greater impact. We need hundreds of companies to make significant cuts in single-use plastic packaging if we are to make meaningful progress in reducing the flow of plastic wastes into oceans.” 

As You Sow says that four other large companies—Keurig Dr Pepper, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, and Target Corp.— agreed to virgin plastic reductions earlier this year after the filing of shareholder proposals by As You Sow. Target and Keurig Dr. Pepper agreed to reduce virgin plastic in brand packaging 20 percent by 2025, Mondelez agreed to cut 5 percent by 2025, and PepsiCo agreed to a 20 percent cut by 2030. 

Cumulatively, the reduction in the use of virgin plastic announced by these five brands is likely to total more than 700,000 tons, according to As You Sow. The nonprofit says it continues dialogue with and Kroger, among other large brands, seeking similar reductions. Forty-five percent of Kroger shareholders and 35 percent of Amazon shareholders supported proposals earlier this year asking the companies to study significant reductions in plastic use.

In a new report, “Corporate Plastic Pollution Scorecard 2021,” As You Sow analyzed the packaging practices of 50 large consumer goods companies, 18 companies, including Walmart, were identified as having announced or planning to announce a virgin plastic reduction goal by 2021. This was a notable nine-fold increase from 2019, when just two companies held these goals, demonstrating rapid corporate awareness of the importance of reducing overall plastic use. Walmart was among the second-highest scoring companies in the report, preceded by top-scoring company Coca-Cola Co.

The largest cut in overall plastic use to date by a major consumer goods company was a 2019 commitment by Unilever to cut virgin plastic use by 50 percent, including a total elimination of 100,000 tons of plastic packaging by 2025.