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Walmart to Reduce E

Jul 17, 2023

Steps include transitioning from plastic to paper bag mailers, right-size packaging technology for shipping cases, order consolidation, and fulfillment closer to the customer’s home.

Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce sales are booming. In Q1-23, the retailer experienced 27% growth year-over-year, which translates to more than $1 billion a month in store-fulfilled delivery sales. As can be expected, the increase in e-comm sales has also resulted in an increase in plastic and corrugated packaging. But Walmart has a solution, several in fact, to reduce the amount of packaging waste associated with its online orders while at the same time supporting its environmental goals.

Among the packaging reduction measures announced by the retailer June 1 are a move from plastic to recyclable paper mailers, an option for consumers to skip the plastic bag for online pickup orders, the use of box-making equipment that delivers right-sized shipping cases, and the consolidation of online orders into fewer boxes.

“Sustainability has always been a key pillar of our business,” says Karisa Sprague, senior vice president, Fulfillment Network Operations for Walmart U.S. “Most of our environmental impact comes from our supply chain, with fulfillment and delivery comprising an important component. This move to recyclable paper mailers for nearly all e-commerce orders and expanding the choice for customers to opt out of bags for pickup orders delivers against our virgin plastic reduction goal as well as our commitment as a company to shift our practices in pursuit of becoming a more regenerative business. Less waste is good for everyone, including our customers, business, and the environment.”

According to Walmart, it ships hundreds of millions of packages to consumers each year. Moving forward, nearly all orders previously shipped in plastic mailers from fulfillment centers and stores as well as marketplace orders shipped with Walmart Fulfillment Services will be sent in 100% curbside-recyclable paper bag mailers. While Sprague declined to share details on the construction of the mailers, she did say that the paper packaging option was fully tested and piloted before being rolled out to Walmart’s fulfillment network.

This transition to paper is expected to 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. Likewise, a new option for consumers to ditch the single-use plastic bag for online pickup orders and bring their own reusable bag is also expected to potentially eliminate millions more plastic bags each year. Says Walmart, early tests of the online option, which is scheduled for nationwide availability by year’s end, indicate promising adoption rates.

Another measure expected to have a significant impact on packaging waste is Walmart’s use of the Packsize Ultra5 right-sized, on-demand box machine—a strategy the retailer first announced in March 2023. The Ultra5, built exclusively for Walmart, is now being used in approximately half its fulfillment centers, with plans to expand use of the machines to its next-generation fulfillment centers in the future. The fully automated, 600-box/hour machine not only eliminates packaging waste by as much as 26%, but it also negates the need for void fill such as plastic air pillows by 60%.

Explains Sprague, “Prior to right-sized boxing, associates assembled boxes by hand, a tedious and repetitive job. With right-sized boxing, associates are able to manage and troubleshoot the technology versus spend time assembling boxes. This includes ensuring the technology runs consistently, feeding boxes into the system, refilling adhesive, triaging cardboard jams, and more. This job shift from manual box assembly to tech-powered roles has been received well by our associates.”

Another benefit of the Ultra5 is that it enables the retailer to fit up to 33% more boxes on freight and delivery carriers, reducing shipping emissions and bringing more orders to customers daily. It also improves the end consumer’s overall unboxing experience, Walmart adds.

To ensure that items can more sustainably travel from stores to customers’ homes, the retailer combines multiple orders on single delivery routes and delivers them using electric vans.

Not new but also an effective packaging-reduction strategy for online orders is Walmart’s use of AI to identify when an item purchased online can be fulfilled from stores instead of fulfillment centers. This reduces both the number of miles driven and the number of boxes used for shipping. According to Walmart, to ensure that items can more sustainably travel from stores to customers’ homes, it combines multiple orders and single delivery routes and delivers them using electric vans.

Says Jennifer McKeehan, senior vice president of End-to-End Delivery at Walmart U.S., “With a Walmart store located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population, we can make a meaningful difference for our customers by strategically using our stores and last-mile delivery network to reduce waste and emissions.” PW