Walmart Canada to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic Bags: Interviews

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Walmart Canada announced Wednesday it will become one of the largest grocery retailers in Canada to eliminate single-use plastic bags.

Horacio Barbeito

The retail giant said the move will prevent almost three-quarters-of-a-billion plastic bags from entering circulation each year.

The changes apply to in-store purchases along with online grocery pickup and delivery orders. The phased approach will see all of Walmart’s more than 400 Canadian locations make the change by Earth Day 2022.

“Eliminating plastic shopping bags is a significant milestone on our journey to becoming a regenerative company – and it’s the right thing to do,” said Horacio Barbeito, President and CEO, Walmart Canada, in a statement.

“We know this is important for our associates and our customers. I’m so proud of our team for taking this step, the most recent in a series of significant changes to ensure we’re doing right by our associates, customers and the planet and leading the way when it comes to regenerative practices.”

Image: Walmart

Rob Nicol, Walmart’s VP Corporate Affairs, said the national rollout follows a 10-store pilot that began in August, which diverted nearly six million plastic bags.

Rob Nicol

“We made a commitment as far back as early 2019 we were going to dramatically reduce the number of single-use plastic bags that we were going to distribute in our stores and online, pickup and delivery. So this has been something that we have been committed to doing, reducing the number of plastic bags, for quite some time,” he said.

“In addition to that, there have been certain municipalities that have moved forward with plastic bans and . . . we implemented according to those rules. Having said that, we wanted to go further and we always knew our ambition was to go completely bagless and to do it right and to do it properly we knew we wanted to test it in a variety of different markets, different sizes of store, different regions of the country and to learn as much as we could in order to be able to implement it from 10 stores to over 400 stores. That was the origin of the pilot.”

The pilot is continuing. There are regular meetings with a task force which has been implementing the pilot with a number of associates from operations and store support and marketing, corporate affairs and sustainability.

Walmart storefront in Truro, Nova Scotia.

“Learning from the stores and asking for feedback and refining the plan to get ready for the announcement and obviously the eventual implementation through the next few months.”

Nicol said the initiative will be rolled out in all stores and in all online pick up and delivery orders. It will begin in February and be complete by April.

“It’s over a two to three month time period and we’re going to be rolling out a variety of different stores, sort of a handful of stores, or up to 10 or 15 stores at a time in various different markets, particularly province by province. That just allows us to begin to roll it out in an even more thoughtful and phased approach and to ensure that we’re working to minimize both the challenges for our associates in store, in delivery and online pickup but also for consumers as well. It allows us to roll out our communications to our customers to get them ready for the implementation,” he said.

Walmart said it has already adopted a series of changes, including:

  • Eliminating plastic wrap from organic banana bunches and single peppers, which removes more than 205,000 lbs. of plastic annually;
  • Increasing post-consumer recycled content in the packaging holding baked goods, avoiding the use of 925,000 lbs. of new plastics annually;
  • Removing 420,000 lbs. of expanded poly styrene from entering the supply chain annually by introducing new packaging for sausage trays; and
  • Eliminating single-use plastic straws in-store and replacing them with paper alternatives, taking approximately 35 million single-use plastic straws out of circulation annually/

“Walmart’s associates and customers have shown us time and time again that they’re ready to step up with us to bring meaningful change to our industry,” said Sam Wankowski, Chief Operations Officer, Walmart Canada.

“By ending the use of single-use plastic shopping bags, we’re fundamentally changing the way Canadians shop with us for the better. This change will help to eliminate more than 10 million pounds of plastic from entering circulation each year – that’s something our associates and customers can be proud of.”

In a statement, Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change said: “Canadians have told us that it is long past time that we cleaned up the plastics littering our beaches, parks, streets and shorelines. The Government of Canada has committed to ban some single-use plastics, and I’d like to thank businesses like Walmart Canada for stepping up to meet the expectations of an environmentally conscious public.”

Walmart Canada operates a chain of more than 400 stores nationwide serving 1.5 million customers each day. Its online store, Walmart.ca, is visited by more than 1.5 million customers daily.

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