Submitted by Adept Packaging,

Walmart first introduced its sustainability initiative to vendors in 2006 with its Packaging Scorecard. Over the last ten years, this initiative changed how companies packaged their products. Walmart has recently evolved their sustainability approach with the release of the Sustainable Packaging Playbook. It is designed to help companies increase sustainability by shifting the focus to the full life cycle of the package, prompting vendors to evaluate and report on everything from sourcing to the end of their supply chain.

The Sustainable Packaging Playbook presents a new set of challenges for packaging engineers. As Walmart has committed to buying 70% of the goods sold in its U.S. stores and clubs from suppliers participating in the index by 2017, the need to overcome these challenges is significant. With Walmart playing a pivotal role in most omnichannel packaging strategies, it is critical for companies to learn and apply these new guidelines. In this article, we will explore the three main goals set forth by the Sustainable Packaging Playbook and how to address them:

  • Optimize the Packaging Design
  • Maximize Sustainably Source Resources
  • Support Recycling

Optimize the packaging design

The first goal of Walmart’s Sustainable Packaging Playbook suggests to increase sustainability through the optimization of packaging design to reduce material usage. As this is a standard goal for packaging engineers, reducing materials further requires innovation. However, to optimize the design effectively, there must be a balance between reduction of material and performance of the packaging.

Packaging engineers need to remember to view primary, secondary and tertiary packaging as a system in order to take the scope of materials, processes and distribution factors into consideration. This will help avoid missed opportunities for material reduction, reusable content and recyclability.

Consider the entire packaging lifecycle

The optimal approach for design starts with the conception of the product. Viewing the complete life cycle of a package system enables packaging engineers to design so that materials are sustainably sourced, efficiently used and effectively recycled throughout the life cycle.

Maximize sustainability sourced materials

The second goal of the Playbook is to increase the use of sustainably sourced material. Walmart wants vendors to “maximize recycled and sustainably sourced renewable content” (Walmart Playbook, 2016). The focus of this goal is to increase social and environmental responsibility for the content being used in packaging. Walmart has committed to goals in the past such as zero net deforestation and collaborating with suppliers to help them identify products that negatively impact the environment and provide them with alternatives for suppliers supporting sustainability.

When considering how to develop or redesign packaging with sustainably sourced material, some are much easier to sustainably source than others.

Support recycling

The third goal of Walmart’s Sustainable Packaging Playbook urges vendors to “design for recycling” and “communicate recyclability” (Walmart Playbook, 2016). When designing new packaging or redesigning an existing package, consider the following:

  • Is this packaging type recyclable or biodegradable?
  • Can the packaging type be composted?
  • Does the package have layers of material? Can it be made using mono-materials?
  • Can the package be taken apart easily so the different components can be recycled?
  • Are the labels, coatings and other aspects of the package recyclable?
  • Can the product be more efficiently distributed in bundles, multipacks or pallets?
  • Are the vendors providing source materials that support sustainability?

Increasing recyclability

The latest EPA report, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Fact Sheet, contains the most up to date US government recycling data for the entire United States. The total amount of containers and packaging recycled as a percentage of amount generated in 2014 was 51.5% (EPA, 2014). By designing packaging that can easily fit in to current recycling types taken in curbside programs, these numbers can be increased substantially. Another way to increase the amount of materials recycled is through clearly communicating to consumers how products need to be recycled.

Communicate recyclability

In addition to choosing recyclable material for packaging design, Walmart wants to increase the communicability to the consumer that the package can be recycled and how to recycle it to remove any barrier that prevents recycling. Walmart suggests to use the How2Recycle label to present consumers with the simplest instructions on if the product is recyclable, how to prepare the material for recycling, where to find more information on that specific product, the type of product it is and format of the recyclable material.

Material recycling

As with source sustainability, some materials are much easier to recycle than others. Corrugated board, clear glass, aluminum beverage cans, steel cans and folding cartons are easily recycled and taken in curb side recycling and community recycling centers. Designing product packaging with materials that are taken by curb side recycling is generally a great start for a sustainable packaging design.

Steps for success

Once you have addressed these three key areas: packaging optimization, sustainable material maximization and recycling, you will be prepared to meet the requirements of the Playbook.

Collaborating with suppliers, recycling companies and packaging services companies with a strong understanding of sustainability can be a useful strategy to help companies streamline the process of addressing the Playbook.

Adept Packaging has deep expertise with a variety of materials and experience with many successful sustainability projects. Visit to learn more and please contact us with any questions about this article.