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Walmart leverages AI in effort to reduce online packaging waste

Walmart packaging
Walmart is tackling the issue of packaging waste.

Walmart is pulling out the stops to remove excess plastic from its supply chain.

The discount giant is adopting measures across its enterprise to reduce the amount of packaging waste associated with online orders. These include applying artificial intelligence (AI) to order routing, giving customers the option to consolidate shipping on e-commerce orders, last-mile delivery efficiencies to reduce mileage and delivery times, moving from plastic to recyclable paper mailers, right-sizing cardboard box packaging, and opting out of single-use plastic bags for online pickup orders.

These efforts are part of Walmart’s commitment to becoming a more regenerative company. Following are highlights of each measure:

AI-based order routing

Walmart utilizes applied AI to identify when an item purchased online can be fulfilled from one of its 4,700 stores instead of fulfillment centers. This step is intended to reduce both the number of miles driven and the number of boxes used for shipping.

To ensure that items can more sustainably travel from stores to customers’ homes, the retailer combines multiple orders on single delivery routes and delivers them using electric vans.

Right-sizing packaging

Walmart is transitioning to right-sized packaging technology in approximately half of its fulfillment network. This technology helps create a package custom fitted to the customer’s order. By eliminating unused space in the box, Walmar says the technology reduces the need for filler by 60% while reducing waste caused by oversized boxes by as much as 26%.

[Read more: Walmart unveils next-gen fulfillment center]

Additionally, all online Walmart shoppers can now request consolidation of multiple items into fewer boxes, reducing waste as well as the number of shipments.

Recyclable mailers
Moving forward, nearly all orders shipped in plastic mailers from fulfillment centers and stores, as well as marketplace items shipped with Walmart Fulfillment Services, will arrive in recyclable paper bag mailers. Walmart expects this transition to eliminate 65 million plastic bag mailers or more than 2,000 tons of plastic from circulation in the U.S. by the end of the current fiscal year.

Plastic bag alternatives
Customers nationwide will soon have the choice to opt out of single-use plastic bags for their online pickup orders. The retailer says early tests indicate “promising” adoption rates that will potentially help eliminate millions of single-use bags each year from circulation. Walmart expects to complete rollout nationwide by the end of the year.

“Our commitment to regeneration is core to who we are and how we innovate at Walmart,” said said Karisa Sprague, senior VP, fulfillment network operations, Walmart U.S. “Customers have told us how excited they are about these enhancements to make it easier for them to make more sustainable choices that support the planet and the next generation.”

“With a Walmart store located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population, we can make a meaningful difference for our customers by strategically using our stores and last mile delivery network to reduce waste and emissions,” said Jennifer McKeehan, senior VP of end-to-end delivery at Walmart U.S. “I’m proud of the efforts we’ve made and will continue to make as we keep regeneration at the forefront of delivery.”

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