Walmart announced this morning it will be reducing plastic across its e-commerce operations in a number of ways, including shifting from plastic mailers to recyclable paper bag mailers and allowing customers to decline the use of plastic shopping bags for their online pickup orders, among other things. It will also introduce an option for customers shopping online to request their items be consolidated into fewer boxes, to reduce waste.
E-commerce rival Amazon introduced a similar option back in 2019, with its Amazon Day Delivery, which allows shoppers to pick a single day per week to receive their Amazon orders.
Walmart estimates the changes to the mailers alone will eliminate 65 million plastic bag mailers or more than 2,000 tons of plastic from circulation in the U.S. by the end of the current fiscal year. However, this initiative only applies to Walmart online orders from stores and fulfillment centers plus any other orders shipped with Walmart Fulfillment Services (WFS). Third-party sellers on Walmart’s Marketplace have the option to use WFS, but are not required to. Plus, Walmart isn’t committing to a total shift, instead saying that it will impact “nearly all orders shipped in plastic mailers” from its fulfillment centers, stores and marketplace items shipped with WFS — but not “all orders.”
In addition, Walmart will no longer require customers to accept their pickup orders in single-use plastic grocery bags, following earlier tests. Based on early adoption, the retailer believes this option will lead to the elimination of millions of single-use bags from circulation each year. The option will roll out across the U.S. throughout 2023 with an expected completion by year-end.
Ahead of this change, Walmart had been working to reduce its use of single-use bags, recently expanding to four more regions in line with local regulations, including Delaware, Oregon, Washington D.C. and Washington state. In these markets, Walmart stores won’t offer single-use bags at the front end or at pickup, bringing the total number of states where bags were eliminated to 10. Including Walmart Canada and Mexico, the company said it anticipated avoiding the use of nearly 2 billion single-use bags every year.
While any improvement is welcome here, the reality is that much stricter steps or tougher regulations would be needed to truly solve the problem of the overuse of plastic. 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 to their homes in boxes or mailers or items picked up in plastic bags.
In addition, some of these changes are optional for the customer — they have to choose to reduce their deliveries or decline single-use bags at pickup by bringing their own. That again puts more of the 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 transitioning to right-size packaging, which is rolling out to roughly half its fulfillment network, using technologies that reduce the need for filler by 60%. And it’s working with AI technologies to identify when items can be fulfilled from stores instead of fulfillment centers, reducing the number of miles that need to be driven. These efforts are ongoing and were highlighted as other examples of where Walmart is looking toward sustainability.