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Walmart replaces plastic e-commerce envelopes with recyclable paper

The switch eliminated more than 2,000 tons of plastic during the retailer’s last fiscal year.

A Walmart employee seals a paper envelope mailer.

A Walmart employee seals a paper envelope mailer. Source: Walmart

Walmart has fulfilled its June 2023 pledge to phase out single-use plastic from mailing envelopes and replace it with recyclable paper. 

The change has already affected about 65 million bags mailed annually in the U.S., cutting an estimated 2,000 tons of plastic, according to the retailer.

Walmart, like rival retailer Amazon, wants to eliminate extra packaging and move away from plastic where possible. The plastic-to-paper switch, close to completion at the end of its fiscal year in 2024, as promised, was made across the company’s U.S. fulfillment network and didn’t require process or equipment changes, according to a Walmart spokesperson.

"When plastic bags ran out, they were restocked with the paper equipment," the spokesperson said via email.

The new policy applies both to Walmart orders and those made by sellers on its marketplace website and fulfilled through Walmart’s delivery services.

Walmart is also allowing customers to opt out of plastic bags for pickup orders at its stores, replacing them with paper in many states. In places where single-use bags of all types are prohibited at large retailers, such as New Jersey, Walmart allows customers placing orders for pickup to opt for reusable bags or "bagless deliveries." Plastic bags are still used for raw meats, produce and chemicals, for food safety and contamination reasons.

Right-sizing other boxes

Walmart has also delivered on the first phase of its commitment to use equipment for custom-fitting boxes to their contents, a strategy known as "right-sizing." Amazon is also doing this as a way of cutting unnecessary materials.

"I think all shipping companies are embracing right-sizing to reduce costs, which then leads to reductions in emissions," said Paul Foulkes-Arellano, founder of Circuthon Consulting. Using a paper mailer instead of a cardboard box, for example, results in packages that are lighter, cutting about 26 grams of packaging per shipment. Extended producer responsibility regulation, which requires companies to handle the disposal of their products and packaging, is also a factor, he said.

Approximately half of Walmart’s U.S. fulfillment centers have been retrofitted with Packsize Ultra 5 technology, which creates order-specific cardboard boxes. More are planned for the coming "months and years," a corporate spokesperson said. Approximately half of Walmart’s U.S. online orders are eligible for this sort of packaging, the company said.

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