Walmart's New Bag Policy Does More Harm Than Good, Outraged Shoppers Say
The mega-retailer is aiming for sustainability, but may be creating a different problem.
Walmart shoppers have seen their fair share of change over the last six decades. This year alone, the big-box retailer has redesigned stores, brought augmented reality (AR) to its app, and even launched its own book club. But a different change Walmart has expanded in 2022 is not sitting well with everyone. The company's bag policy has been updated at certain stores in an effort to be more environmentally friendly, but some customers believe it does more harm than good. Read on to find out why shoppers are raging against Walmart's reusable bags.
Walmart started changing its bag policy at some stores back in 2021.
Over the last two years, Walmart has been working to fulfill an environmental initiative it unveiled in 2020. As part of the plan, the big-box retailer is looking to "reinvent the plastic bag," because it is estimated that 100 billion plastic bags are used every year in the U.S. alone, and less than 10 percent of them get recycled.
Walmart stores in the state of Vermont were the first to kick off the plan in Feb. 2021 by eliminating single-use bags entirely. A few months later, Maine joined in.
"Walmart is converting all Maine stores to bagless on July 1," Charles Crowson, Walmart's communications director for the Northern U.S., told USA Today at the time. "A similar initiative began in Vermont four months ago and was well-received by customers there."
More states are ditching plastic bags.
In summer 2021, Crowson told USA Today that Walmart wasn't planning a national rollout of plastic bag bans at its stores. But in May 2022, the policy expanded, as the retailer eliminated the use of single-use bags at stores in New Jersey. "For in-store shopping, please bring your own reusable bags or buy them at checkout," Walmart states in its new bag policy.
Another state is set to join Vermont, Maine, and New Jersey in less than two weeks. Starting Jan. 1, Walmart stores in Colorado will no longer provide single-use bags for customers, The Daily Sentinel reported. Once Colorado's 105 locations join this environmental initiative, a total of 206 Walmart stores will have the surcharge rules in place, according to data from Statista.
"Walmart has been exploring alternatives to single-use carryout bags from our stores since 2021," Lauren Willis, global communications director for Walmart in the Western U.S., told CBS-affiliate KKTV in Monument, Colorado. "In the U.S., we have transitioned from plastic bags in Vermont, Maine and New Jersey and, starting early 2023, we expect to eliminate single-use carryout bags in Colorado as well—with reusable bags available for purchase at multiple prices … Walmart remains committed to identifying solutions that are scalable, convenient and sustainable."
But some shoppers are speaking out against these changes.
As Walmart ditches single-use plastic bags in more states, some shoppers have serious complaints. Recently, a customer in Canada—where Walmart also recently eliminated single-use bags—took to Twitter to point out a major problem with the new initiative: They're receiving even more bags now.
"Really appreciate the fact that @WalmartCanada has phased out plastic bags for recyclable ones but this was the number of bags I got from one grocery delivery," the shopper tweeted on Aug. 17 with a photo of several blue reusable Walmart bags piled up. "There is no way I can reuse all of them. If Walmart can have a takeback program to reuse them that would be nice."
Another Twitter user added on Dec. 20, "The amount of blue reusable bags I have from Walmart is ridiculous!!!" On Dec. 19, a different shopper tweeted that they were "drowning in reusable non-recyclable blue Walmart bags."
It's not just an inconvenience for shoppers either—this environmentally-friendly policy may not be good for the environment. A 2020 United Nations study found that because bags like the ones Walmart provides require more energy to make, they must be used 10 to 20 times to have less of an impact on the environment.
Customers are asking Walmart to come up with a better solution for deliveries.
In February, one shopper admitted that they appreciated receiving reusable tote bags, but said that getting new ones with every Walmart delivery is "just plain wasteful" instead of helpful. "There's gotta be another way," they tweeted.
Another asked in November if there was any way they could pass on their collection: "Do you know of any [organization] that needs reusable shopping bags? We're getting buried in Walmart bags from grocery delivery."
Customer Larry Grant told the Canada Broadcasting Company (CBC) that he's racked up around 300 reusable Walmart bags as a result of delivery orders from the past six months. "It's a bit crazy. In a month, I can be accumulating anywhere from 40 to 50," he said noting that in one weekly grocery delivery for his family of four he received eight reusable Walmart bags with two bags containing just one item each. "I'm really frustrated. I just hope they will think about this failure … and come up with a solution."
In a statement to Best Life, Walmart global communications director Willis said, "Walmart Canada eliminated single-use plastic shopping bags across our business in April 2022—one of the largest grocery retailers in the country to do so. As we approach the one-year anniversary of this initiative, we're continuing to learn and adjust alongside our customers. Since April 2022, we have prevented more than 421M single-use plastic shopping bags from entering circulation."
According to Willis, Walmart is "exploring different options" to slash the need for new reusable bags, including "reviewing opportunities to take back our reusable bags in-store."
As for online deliveries, Willis added, "Additional alternatives to reusable bags for online grocery delivery overall are also being explored." And for in-store shopping, she noted that "while we encourage customers to bring their own reusable options from home when shopping in-store, reusable bags are available starting at $0.33 for those who wish to purchase one."