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WASHINGTON -- Walmart has a "vision of creating a true circular economy," a company official told the U.S. Senate Recycling Caucus last week.

Zach Freeze, the Bentonville retailer's senior director for strategic initiatives/sustainability, appeared on a panel along with Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries President Robin K. Wiener and others.

Thursday was America Recycles Day.

The World Economic Forum has described the circular economy as "an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair reuse and return to the biosphere, and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models."

Using material that is, in theory, recyclable isn't enough. It must be logistically feasible, economically sensible and customer friendly, Freeze noted.

"With the materials that we use to protect our product, to deliver it efficiently to the customer, to keep it safe, to keep it fresh, there has to be an end market for those. There has to be a demand for those materials. There has to be a reuse opportunity for those, and they have to make it in the bins to be able to be recycled," he said.

"Walmart sees this as a significant opportunity to work with others in the supply chain to make this vision a reality," he said. "Being right in the middle between a customer and a supply chain, it's incredibly important to make sure that we do our part to message the right ways to recycle to the customer and to ask and demand for recyclable packaging from our suppliers."

Walmart's commitment to a circular economy goes beyond recycling, Freeze said.

In April 2017, it unveiled Project Gigaton. The goal is for the company and its suppliers to help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 1 billion metric tons by the year 2030.

The company also is expanding its use of renewable energy sources. Last month, the company announced plans to install solar panels at 21 Walmart locations in Illinois -- 19 stores and two distribution centers.

The solar-energy systems will move the company closer to its "goal of supplying its global operations with 50 percent renewable energy" by 2025, it said.

Recycling is big business, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a Washington-based trade association.

The U.S. recycles roughly 130 million tons of material per year, generating "$117 billion annually in economic activity" and creating more than 500,000 jobs, the institute said.

Less than 30 percent of that recycled material was generated by households.

In 2017, the U.S. exported nearly 38 million metric tons of scrap valued at $17.9 billion, much of it to China, the institute's president told the caucus.

Recent restrictions on scrap imports by Beijing have caused "large tremors throughout the U.S. recycling infrastructure," Wiener added.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the caucus's co-chairman, spoke briefly at the beginning of the event, telling the audience that there is bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill for recycling.

The issue attracts "lots of strange bedfellows -- ultraconservatives, ultraliberals [and] all in between -- because this makes all the sense in the world," Boozman said.

It's a topic that "should be totally noncontroversial," he added.

Boozman, who practiced optometry in Northwest Arkansas before heading to Washington, described the Bentonville retailer's phenomenal growth.

"When I moved to Rogers, Ark., in 1977 ... Rogers had one stop light. Bentonville didn't have any. I used to take care of the lady that was the bookkeeper that did the Walmart payroll by hand. It was that small," he said.

Today, the company has 2.2 million employees around the globe and reported $500.3 billion in revenue in the year ending Jan. 31.

Boozman told the audience that he has witnessed the company's evolution first-hand.

"The one thing that they have done a good job of is in recycling and conservation," he said.

"It's the right thing to do, but also it's good from a business standpoint."

Metro on 11/19/2018

Print Headline: Walmart out to create an economy of reuse, company says

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