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Waste Not
Host of Innovative Recycling Initiatives Helping Walmart Push Toward Zero-Waste Goal

How many times have you finished a meal at a restaurant and felt guilty about the amount of food left on the table? So, in order to ease your mind about the waste of food, you take your leftovers home with honest intentions of eating it later. Fast-forward to cleaning out your fridge.

How many times have you finished a meal at a restaurant and felt guilty about the amount of food left on the table? So, in order to ease your mind about the waste of food, you take your leftovers home with honest intentions of eating it later. Fast-forward to cleaning out your fridge. That same leftover container gets tossed in the garbage with other food from the supermarket that never made in to the weekly meal plan. Consider the inventory control at restaurants or retail grocery stores; fresh produce, meats, bakery items and packaged food that never make it in to the chef’s special recipe or never make it off — or even on — the shelves at the store.

Consumers and businesses, especially in today’s economic state, may tend to focus on the financial investment wasted. Why did I buy that much? I should have ordered less. I need to make smarter purchases; we need a better inventory management system … Financial burden is obvious to the bottom line — what about the environmental impact to our communities?

Quest Resource Management Group, a full-service environmental consulting and management company out of Frisco, TX, helps its clients take advantage of innovative, cost-saving opportunities for mitigating waste in all areas of their operations. One such company that is benefiting from a range of recycling and waste-diversion initiatives is Walmart.

Environmental Sustainability for the World’s Largest Retailer

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Environmental sustainability has become an essential ingredient to doing business. As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart Stores Inc. recognizes the great potential it has to save its customers money and help ensure a better world for generations to come. While its overall sustainability goals include being powered by 100 percent renewable energy, creating zero waste and selling consumer products that sustain people and the environment, this piece will focus specifically on the waste and what happens when it leaves the store locations.

With Walmart's mass assortment of products comes the need to maximize operational efficiencies with successful outlets for the waste and recycling of such a broad range of materials. Luckily, as part of its sustainability initiatives, Walmart focuses on the types of waste it has, how this waste can be recycled and the opportunity it has to maximize it post-use recovery efforts for things such as food waste and used cooking oil from the prepared foods area, as well as used motor oil and used tires from their automotive department. By building a relationship with Quest, Walmart has maintained its focus on reusing and recycling, maximizing both environmental and financial impact.

Innovation in Food Waste Recycling

Ideally, source reduction — preventing food waste before it is created — is a priority when managing food inventory. However, when faced with the inevitable, Walmart made the decision to fully understand its environmental impact and take necessary strides to properly divert food waste from the landfills.

As part of the strategy to assist Walmart in maximizing potential for food waste recycling, Quest designed and implemented a successful coast-to-coast food waste recycling program. The plan included a service plan design, customizing service equipment and trucks, and rolling out a comprehensive program in less than 12 months to locations in all 50 states, ultimately creating 500 new job positions.

Quest also worked with Walmart to strengthen other recycling initiatives such as used tire and motor oil recycling, as well as maximize its potential for proper used cooking oil recycling methods.

As previously mentioned, its recycling focus involves the ‘life’ of all of these products, which does not merely end after they are picked up from the Walmart locations. The recycling that Walmart does today positively impacts consumers, businesses and organizations tomorrow.

Recycling at Walmart: Effectively Diverting and Closing the Loop

In 2011 alone, Walmart donated over 338 million pounds of food — the equivalent of 264 million meals — to local food banks and hunger relief organizations. While still fresh, some meat is not eligible for distribution to food banks and is therefore given to local animal shelters and zoos, to be fed to big cats or other animals. Quest facilitates over 10 million pounds of donated Walmart meat to over 125 animal parks across the country.

Produce and dry baked goods deemed ineligible for distribution through the store’s food donation program are routed for recycling. This type of food waste — also referred to as organics — is collected and processed into nutrient rich compost, which is then sold to growers who put the initial produce on the shelves, effectively closing the loop. The compost is also packaged in bulk and then sold to local landscaping companies or processed as nutritious animal feed additives for chickens, turkeys or cows.

Used cooking oil from the fryers in Walmart's prepared food departments is collected and recycled into biodiesel, which is then used by companies to fuel their fleets.

The recycling programs at the Walmart Tire & Lube Express also play a large part in contributing to the company's sustainability initiatives. Motor oil collected from oil changes is sent to be re-refined into base oil. Scrap tires can be recycled into rubber-based mulch and used by local landscaping companies or crumb rubber for use in playground or other sports surfaces, such as running tracks in stadiums.

Sustainable Collaboration and Success

Thanks to its work with Quest, these examples are only a fraction of the recycling efforts demonstrated at Walmart and Sam’s Club locations. Quest turns operational inefficiencies into environmentally sustainable solutions and often a source of profit that our clients may have otherwise overlooked or even mismanaged. Providing companies the guidance for implementing effective recycling and waste-management programs affords them the financial opportunity to improve on and achieve overall sustainability goals.