Sustainability the Walmart way

* 4 min read
When the biggest retailer in the world asks you to be part of their Sustainable Packaging Summit, we jumped at the chance. What an honour and what an opportunity to really make a difference.  Our packaging technology director Gillian Garside-Wight provides an insight into the day and what she presented.

We are Walmart’s lead creative agency and have partnered with them for over 10 years and we’ve been banging the sustainable drum for some time. Walmart have set some tough targets, to have 100% recyclable packaging across all Private Brands, globally by 2025. They realise they can’t do this alone, and that they need to engage all colleagues, suppliers and packaging manufacturers to help.This is where their Sustainable Packaging Summit came in, a big investment by Walmart, but essential to inform their internal Private Brands teams on the importance of sustainability, ‘why act now’ and share case studies to educate and inspire. 

Walmart are already achieving some good figures; 50% of their packaging already delivers against their targets. But that also means that 50% doesn’t. There’s lots to do. They have linked up with the How2Recycle service, who provide recycling labelling and advice for all Walmart suppliers at no direct cost to the supply base.

Walmart are aiming for all their packaging to be 100% recyclable, but they are also looking at the bigger picture. They want to close the loop and create a circular packaging economy by designing in recycled content. They are informing themselves and engaging external specialists such as the APR (Association of Plastics Recyclers) to fully understand the options and implications for their packaging material selection.

Guest speakers at the Summit included an inspiring talk from global giant Unilever who are doing great work and John B Sanfilippo & Son, a private brands supplier to Walmart who switched from a composite can (4 packaging layers) to a fully recyclable PET can. Great examples of what is possible when innovating sustainably within traditionally difficult product areas.

So why was I invited? … Good question.

We go back a long way with Walmart and they know we have been working with our clients for over 10 years to reduce the impact packaging has on our environment.  It’s not new to us.  Our American clients want to learn from their UK cousins. 100% recyclable and including recycled content is not new to the packaging industry and certainly not to the members of the Plastic Pact in the UK. We can learn from each other and be inspired by solutions other countries are adopting to increase their recycling, reduce or eliminate landfill and increase recycled content. I talked about the global issue, presented global and European results and shared examples of practice ways to select packaging.

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With facts like… ‘1/2 of all plastic manufactured is trash within 1 year’ and ‘91% of all plastic is not recycled globally’ who wouldn’t be inspired to do their bit? In the US 60% of residents have access to recycling facilities but most of the waste (59%) ends up in landfill.

We must be inspired by Germany, Austria and Sweden how now have virtually zero waste to landfill with ≤3%. The answer to this success is to have a narrow strategy and do everything possible to achieve it, with an infrastructure to support it. Germany use DRS (deposit return systems) with great success and have a recycling rate of 66% across all materials and formats. Austria have a comprehensive composting strategy along with energy recovery and Sweden have turned around their waste situation, from 1975 when most of their waste ended up as landfill to now being ≤1% with a focus on energy recovery and recycling.

In the UK there’s lots to learn, but there’s a lot we do well, and it was a pleasure to share some of the fantastic UK work with Walmart. Many of our UK retailers have similar strategies, from reducing/ eliminating black rigid plastics, to simplifying and reducing the numbers of plastics used and actively promoting recycled content. Simple solutions can be implemented such as removing unnecessary windows in cartons, but there are more complex shopper and merchandising challenges e.g. where trays create colour blocking to help the shopper locate their product. Every product needs to be reviewed through a sustainable lens, with the end consumer in mind. Over complicate the process and it becomes a minefield.

 A great example of cutting through the confusion and offering tools to help their teams, is the decision tree used by a major UK retailer. It simplifies the complex process of developing private label packaging solutions, by packaging format and then material choice to guide packaging development, buyers and suppliers in the right (consistent) direction.

The basis of my talk at the summit was around our Sun Branding Solutions 3 R’s – relevance, responsibility and rediscovery. Each packaging decision must be relevant to the brand and importantly the end consumer. We all have a responsibility to make a difference and do the right thing, starting now. All ideas don’t have to be revolutionary, this is a journey of rediscovery and we can learn from the past, each other, and the rest of the world to discover new, exciting materials and formats to package our products in.

Sharing and inspiring our clients to take that daunting step towards a sustainable future through sustainable packaging solutions is so exciting and I was proud to be part of this motivating summit.

We can all change the world we live in – are you brave enough to make a difference? The Walmart teams are!