The Reason Greenpeace Is So Unhappy With Walmart

Walmart turned heads in February of 2019 when it announced a "bold new set of plastic waste reduction commitments" involving its private brand. The grocery giant and discount chain had set an ambitious range of targets, including that it would make 100 percent of its packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025; cut plastic packaging when possible; and work with its suppliers to get rid of non-recyclable packaging by 2020. Back then, its Senior Vice President of Global Sustainability Laura Phillips said that the company "fully recognize[s] that reducing plastic waste by increasing packaging circularity is an area where Walmart can lead."

Now it appears that Walmart might have overpromised and under-delivered. In December 2020, Greenpeace sued Walmart for misleading shoppers as its containers, which are advertised as being recyclable, can neither be recycled nor reused. And because most of the plastic containers which are labeled as "recyclable" actually aren't, they end up being incinerated, tossed into a landfill or worse — end up in oceans where we don't need them to be (via CBS News).

Walmart could technically argue that it isn't their fault, because as CBS points out, U.S. recycling plants can only accept specific plastics for recycling, and even those are not all processed. The U.S. goes through about 33 million tons of single-use plastics each year and to process this presents a challenge that recyclers cannot meet.

Greenpeace: Walmart is the '100 pound gorilla'

Thus it may come as no surprise that Greenpeace regards Walmart as a "100-pound gorilla when it comes to global retailers." John Hocevar, who is head of Greenpeace's oceans campaign also pointed out that the company's plastic footprint clocks in at a million tons a year. "So far, instead of working to reduce their plastic footprint in a significant way, they are greenwashing." To be fair, Walmart isn't the only company to be called out for potentially misleading their customers over their green credentials, because California prosecutors have also sued Amazon and Costco for calling products "biodegradable". All three respondents, which also included Walmart, eventually settled (via CBS).

In case you're wondering whether things might have improved since the lawsuit was filed, they haven't. In its 2021 Supermarket Plastics Ranking, Greenpeace says all the supermarkets it reviewed received failing scores for their reliance on single-use plastics, and that the suggestion of recycling has done nothing to cut the proliferation of plastic bag pollution. Leading the list of what Greenpeace likely considers to be the best of the worst is Giant Eagle, followed by Aldi. Kroger sits at No. 4, Costco (which Greenpeace indicates didn't respond to enquiries) at No. 6, and Walmart at No. 7.