Waste Not Want Not: Walmart explores closed-loop recycling

By Daniel Upham, Writer, EDF Executive Office Operations

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Walmart is starting to see the treasure potential of some of its own garbage. Walmart has been exploring closed-loop recycling, where trash goes in and new products come out, and one of its newer programs is literally for the dogs (and cats).

Each month the retailer sends 25 tons of cardboard, 15 tons of plastic bottles and 30 tons of plastic hangers to Worldwise, a company that turns the materials into pet products for Walmart to sell. Yesterday’s packing materials become today’s cat scratchers, beverage containers become dog bed filling and hangers become cat litter pans. Even plastic bags, as likely to end up in the ocean as entombed in a landfill, are given a new life, and repurposed into litter pan liners.

Forgive the trite expression, but it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.

"A system where waste (is) essentially transformed into a feedstock to make high-quality products, not just downgrading into lesser products, can be really transformational,” Elizabeth Sturcken, our managing director of corporate partnerships, said in a San Francisco Chronicle article about the program. Vonda Lockwood, Walmart’s director of innovation and sustainability, said she hopes the Worldwise/Walmart partnership can “be a road map of success” for closed-loop recycling programs.

This is one of a few such pilots that Walmart has going. Other examples include:

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from Walmart’s dumpsters getting turned into hangers for its stores
  • Poster frames made from reused polystyrene

The march to zero waste continues.