You realize you want something, go online, and click buy. And just a few days later, your package arrives. The product is just what you’ve wanted for so long and now you finally have it. It’s magical. Now, all there’s left to do is to throw away the box, the plastic wrapper, and the rest of that cumbersome packaging. This common scenario answers to how the plastic pollution problem has gotten so bad.
And the data shows it too. According to the EPA, individuals produced over 80 million tons of container and packaging waste in 2017. Unfortunately, only 50.1% was recycled, the rest in landfills or combusted it for partial energy recovery.
There is no doubt, packaging has contributed to plastic pollution for decades. However, the increase in consumer goods production is only worsening the problem.
To get a better idea of where the plastic pollution problem really lies and understand how companies should be acting to solve it, we chatted with Walmart Lead for Sustainable Packaging Ashley C. Hall.
As she guides us through her work, we were able to dive deep into what level of involvement we need from both companies and consumers alike to truly move the needle when it comes to reducing plastic pollution.
Reducing Plastic Pollution Involves Companies Keeping A Product’s ‘End of Life’ In Mind
While it is not always possible to reduce the amount of packaging being used, there are other ways to adopt greener methods. Hall notes that there is a range for making packaging more sustainable.
Contrary to what many believe, product sustainability exists far deeper than the choice of material being used. Hall showed us that there is much more to the picture.
Through her experience, education is one of many areas that can spark change in the packaging space.
Specifically, she tells us: “it is important for those in the supply chain to know how to design with the end of life in mind.”
With this school of thought, industries have the ability to lead their product manufacturing in a sustainable direction.
Everyone in the Industry Can Design For the ‘End of Life’
Manufacturers must also constantly assess the level of engagement between consumers and products. For instance, they should consider customers’ habits with product packaging. Although a majority of individuals want to recycle, some still improperly dispose of products.
Unfortunately, some of the public is guilty of “wish cycling”, or the practice of tossing questionable items in the recycling bin in hopes that they will somehow be recycled.
When consumers do that, they can contaminate recycling loads.
By thoughtfully considering a product’s life-cycle from production to use, companies can design packaging that is recyclable, reusable, and easy for customers to dispose of. As a result, the amount of waste going into landfills can be significantly reduced.
Walmart’s America Recycles Program: Engaging With Customers To Reduce Plastic Pollution
Earlier this November, Walmart piloted the “Walmart Recycles Together” program in 110 of its stores. As a part of the initiative, the retail giant developed an in-store and digital campaign to engage its customers on the importance of recycling packaging.
At this time, Walmart released an updated version of what it calls its “Recycling Playbook”. As a revamped copy of its playbook from February 2019, the retail giant provides information to suppliers and other companies looking to adopt sustainable packaging.
In the 89-page document, the company covers a wide variety of information regarding packaging format. However, the retail giant primarily focuses on the most common packaging formats found in its stores.
For example, bags, films, bottles, and boxes. With data primarily pulled from North America, the playbook covers recyclability information based on existing infrastructures.
For instance, it explains how to create or read recycling labels, the comparison between different materials, and additive factors into a product that may present recycling challenges.
Unsurprisingly, those who engaged with the book found immediate benefits.
Many times, individuals found themselves simply saying, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that.”
As the booklet is still published on Walmart’s website, it serves as a continuous reference for companies to educate themselves on how to design for recycling.
Offering In-Store Recycling Opportunities to Tackle Plastic Pollution
Walmart is also providing a handful of other opportunities for customers to adopt greener habits. Additional to its in-person educational events in November, Walmart continuously offers in-store recycling opportunities.
Currently, its stores have drop boxes to dispose of more difficult-to-recycle materials, such as plastic bags and films. When customers attended the Walmart Recycles Together event, they were provided the education and outlets needed to avoid further contributing to wish cycling.
But Walmart doesn’t want its initiatives to end there; it hopes to get other companies involved in tackling the plastic pollution issue too.
Walmart’s Is Involving Other Companies
Walmart is currently working closely with a handful of other companies. Among these are Coca-Cola and Unilever, two companies that the retail giant worked with throughout the “Walmart Recycles Together” event.
To forge a true partnership, Walmart is providing companies access to its Project Gigaton Platform.
In its database, Walmart encourages companies to set reduction goals and then track and report the progress of its own greenhouse gas emissions and usage of materials.
With Walmart’s help, these brands are able to take the necessary steps to include reusable methods into their packaging.
What’s Next For Walmart’s Recycling Initiative
While Walmart continues to work on a variety of sustainability initiatives, its efforts seem to stretch far into the future.
Currently, Walmart’s private brands are striving for 100% of its food and consumable products to have the How2Recycle labels on-pack by 2022.
In addition, the retail giant plans to continue working through philanthropic outlets, like the Walmart Foundation, to continue its work in sustainability.
Everyone Has An Opportunity to Be a Part of the Solution
Fortunately, Hall told us: “Walmart believes everyone has an opportunity to be a part of the solution.”
However, in order to contribute, we should all consider the three elementary aspects of recycling:
It is essential for manufacturers to educate themselves on how to design for the end of a product’s life. Whether by choosing eco-friendly materials or reducing material usage, these choices can positively impact the packing space.
However, as we learned, it is equally important for retailers to provide the information necessary for consumers to properly dispose of products after use. after use.
Overall, the life-cycle of a product is only sustainable if we all play our parts. Walmart wants to make it happen; who else wants to join the fight against plastic pollution?