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Many Walmart shoppers will soon see new packaging as retailer tries to cut waste

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Walmart is swapping out plastic mailers for paper mailers that customers can recycle.
Walmart

BENTONVILLE, Ark. —‎‏ Shoppers who click the “buy” button on Walmart‘s website and pick up items curbside will soon spot a difference: new packaging.

The nation’s largest retailer will roll out changes to eliminate waste across its business, it said Thursday. Walmart will swap plastic mailers for paper ones that can be recycled curbside.

It will add made-to-fit technology in about half of its fulfillment centers, so each shipped box uses less material and more boxes can fit on each truckload. And by the end of the year, customers at all of its stores will be able to choose to skip plastic bags when retrieving curbside pickup orders.

“It’s about making sustainability the everyday choice for our customers,” said Jane Ewing, Walmart’s senior vice president of sustainability. “And it’s about making sure the path of least resistance is the most sustainable one.”

She said the company aims to offer products that are better for the planet, but without the higher price tag.

Walmart wants to reduce packaging as online sales become a bigger part of its business. Digital transactions now make up about 13% of total annual sales for Walmart in the U.S. The moves can also appeal to customers who care about the environment, or have grown tired of discarded boxes and plastic bags piling up at their homes.

For a retailer with a reach as staggering as Walmart’s, a change can quickly add up. The company’s switch to paper mailers is expected to eliminate more than 2,000 tons of plastic from circulation in the U.S. by the end of January.

Other retailers are trying to cut down on packaging and cater to customers who care about sustainability, too. Amazon has also used more made-to-fit packaging after investing two years ago in CMC, a company that makes the packaging machine.

It is also working with vendors to ship more packages in their own containers rather than putting them in an additional box. More than 10% of its parcels last year were shipped without Amazon packaging, and the company said it plans to increase that share.

Amazon allows customers to save a dollar or two by consolidating purchases into a single package. Walmart began offering shoppers a similar option in March, but without a financial incentive.

Meanwhile, Target has replaced bubble wrap with recyclable paper cushioning. Last year, it launched a household essentials brand, Everspring, that cuts back on waste with reusable glass cleaning spray bottles. At three stores, it’s piloting a returnable bags to reduce single-use bags.

Along with appealing to shoppers, the sustainability push can come with cost benefits. With made-to-fit packaging, for example, each box requires less material and plastic air pillows that cushion an item — making truckloads more efficient. The box changes also reduce labor for workers who previously made and taped the containers by hand.

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