walmart announced this morning will reduce plastic in its e-commerce business in a number of ways, including switching from plastic mailers to recyclable paper bag mailers and enabling customers to decline the use of plastic shopping bags for their online pick-up orders. It is also introducing an option for online shoppers to request that their items be consolidated into fewer boxes to reduce waste.
Ecommerce rival Amazon introduced a similar option in 2019, with its Amazon Day Delivery, which allows shoppers to choose one day a week to receive their Amazon orders.
Walmart estimates that the mailer changes alone will remove 65 million plastic bag mailers or more than 2,000 tons of plastic from circulation in the US by the end of the current fiscal year. However, this initiative only applies to orders shipped using Walmart Fulfillment Services (WFS). Third-party sellers on Walmart’s Marketplace have the option to use WFS, but is not mandatory. Additionally, Walmart isn’t committing to a total shift, saying it will affect “nearly all orders shipped in plastic mailers” from its fulfillment centers, stores and marketplace items shipped using WFS — but not “all orders.” “.
In addition, Walmart will no longer require customers to accept their takeout orders in single-use plastic shopping bags, following earlier testing. Based on early adoption, the retailer believes this option will lead to millions of disposable bags being withdrawn from circulation each year. The option will be rolled out in the US during 2023 and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Prior to this change, Walmart engaged in reduction the use of single-use bags, recently expanded to four more regions in compliance with local regulations, including Delaware, Oregon, Washington DC and Washington State. In these markets, Walmart stores will not offer single-use bags at the front or at pick-up, bringing the total number of states where bags were eliminated to 10. Including Walmart Canada and Mexico, the company said it expects to use nearly 2 billion disposable bags a year.
While any improvement here is welcome, the reality is that much stricter steps or stricter regulations are needed to really solve the plastic overuse problem. The convenience of e-commerce and online grocery means there is more plastic in circulation than would be necessary if customers went to the store with their own bags, rather than having items shipped home in boxes or mailers or collect in plastic bags.
In addition, some of these changes are optional for the customer – they must choose to reduce their deliveries or refuse disposable bags at pick-up by bringing their own bags. This in turn puts a greater burden on the consumer who has to remember to make the sustainable choice.
Walmart says it’s also working to reduce cardboard in shipments by moving to appropriately sized packaging, which is rolling out to about half of its fulfillment network, using technologies that reduce the need for filler by 60%. And it works with AI technologies to determine when items can be fulfilled from stores rather than fulfillment centers, reducing the number of miles that need to be driven. These efforts are ongoing and highlighted as other examples of where Walmart is looking for sustainability.