REI Co-op brand clothing rolled up and tied in string

Eliminating Waste

Eliminating waste is good for our business and good for the planet. For years we have worked to design and scale sustainable packaging standards and minimize waste throughout our operations. We will continue to do so, learning from and sharing openly with others.


Zero Waste

REI continues to work toward a goal of zero waste (defined by industry as diverting 90% of waste from landfill) across our operations. We achieved this in our distribution centers and are continually raising the bar in our retail stores. Eliminating waste is good for our business and good for the environment. We use a "reduce, reuse, recycle" framework to eliminate waste at the front end of the manufacturing process. And we examine and re-engineer practices causing waste generation throughout our operations, from manufacturing to product placement in our stores, to our work with local waste authorities and haulers.

Here are a few ways we're working toward our aspiration to become a zero-waste organization:

  • Requesting that our vendor partners seek alternatives to individual plastic bags for shipping of apparel and other items. This action alone could eliminate over 50 tons of plastic film waste per year.

  • Implementing backhaul of film plastics from our stores to our distribution centers for baling and recycling with Trex. This will divert from landfill the largest segment of material in our retail waste stream. To date, we have recycled over 815,000, pounds of plastic through this program, enough to make over eight football-fields of decking.

  • Achieving TRUE Zero Waste certification for our Sumner, Washington distribution center in 2019 and certifying our Bedford, Pennsylvania and Goodyear, Arizona distribution centers in early 2021. We are in the process of certifying our first two retail stores to the TRUE Zero Waste certification.

  • Joining with industry peers in establishing a recycling system for ebike batteries. REI has joined an initiative coordinated by PeopleForBikes to have batteries collected and recycled by Call2Recycle, starting in 2022.

  • Partnering with Subaru to enable customers and employees to recycle snack wrappers with Terracycle. We have hosted collection boxes for snack wrapper drop-off in all our stores, DCs, and offices, collecting over a ton of material that will be made into things like park benches or climbing walls.

  • Increasing recycling and recovery options for difficult-to-recycle materials in our waste stream by partnering with suppliers and peers in retail to develop innovative system solutions.

Overall, REI diverted 83% of operational waste from landfill in 2021. The accompanying graph shows the breakdown in diversion performance for retail stores, distribution centers, and offices. These tonnages are based on all locations where we have full visibility to the waste and recycling data. 

Operational Waste Diversion graph

Fig 1: Download Spreadsheet Expand Operational Waste Diversion graph


Effective packaging is critical for safely transporting products. The perfect packaging design finds the optimal balance of product protection, sustainable materials and minimal waste. REI prioritizes paper-based packaging that is FSC-certified or made from certified post-consumer waste. We also focus on creating packaging that is designed to be easily recycled. With the assistance of the Outdoor Industry Association and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, REI has published sustainable packaging guidelines to encourage and educate our vendors. These guidelines support not only REI Co-op and Co-op Cycles, but also the brands we sell within our stores, and the greater outdoor and cycling industries. 

Whenever possible, we seek ways to eliminate packaging altogether. We have largely eliminated the use of individual polyethylene plastic bags—commonly referred to as “polybags”—for REI Co-op brand apparel by switching to using a single outer bag per large shipping box from the apparel factory to our distribution centers. To increase packing efficiency and reduce packaging waste, we implemented the “roll-pack” packaging method for most REI Co-op brand apparel styles in 2020. Products are loosely rolled and secured with a small twist of FSC-certified undyed paper. To help scale the success we’ve had eliminating individual polybags from our own apparel supply chain, we’ve asked our vendor partners to follow suit and avoid shipping apparel products in individual polybags. 

GreenBlue's How2Recycle Label™

We're proud of our role in aligning the broader industry around the How2Recycle® Label. It is a voluntary, standardized labeling system that clearly communicates instructions to consumers on how to recycle packaging. It involves a coalition of forward-thinking brands that want their packaging to be recycled and are empowering consumers through smart labels. Most of the primary packaging for our REI Co-op brand products are now labeled with the How2Recycle guidance. REI was one of the first brands to adopt the How2Recycle Label, for our REI Co-op brand and Co-op Cycles product packaging, and we encourage other brands and retailers to join us in this commitment.

Paper & Sustainable Forestry

Healthy forests are essential for a healthy planet and for people to enjoy the outdoors. They’re also essential to REI’s business. We use fiber and the resulting paper products throughout our operations – flyers, cardboard, shopping bags, hangtags and more. As a co-op that inspires our members to spend more time outside, sustainable forestry is a natural focus for us.

Our paper and paper products purchasing policy is a direct reflection of our values. It's designed to positively influence paper supply chains well beyond our immediate sphere. We also intend our policy to support sustainable forestry systems. We believe that forestry products can be a much-preferred alternative to other materials – if sourced and produced by sustainable methods.

When we purchase paper products, we strongly prefer post-consumer waste, or virgin fiber harvested from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests. We avoid buying products where the fiber comes from unknown or unwanted sourcesThe mark of sustainable forestry. F S C N 0 0 2 8 7 8

Our paper buyers continually work on innovative solutions to reduce waste paper. For example, we resize print pieces to match the width of stock paper. We have also redesigned the packaging of our REI Co-op brand gear and apparel to minimize the amount of paper it contains.

The following table summarizes the sources of paper used across the co-op in our marketing, omni-channel fulfillment, REI Co-op brand packaging, and operational paper use. “Acceptable” papers are defined as those containing pre-consumer recycled material, fiber from known, legal sources, or certified by other fiber certification systems such as PEFC or SFI.

Paper Usage graph

Fig 2: Download Spreadsheet Expand Paper Usage graph