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.
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.
Part of our approach is the responsible use of resources and leveraging our purchasing power to help motivate sustainable practices within our supply chain. We are also committed to mitigating negative environmental impacts from the harvest and processing of paper products that we purchase. REI fully supports practices that promote forest sustainability, biodiversity and long-term shared environmental, social and economic benefits.
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 sources.
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-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, Co-op Brands 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.
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 for REI branded apparel– commonly referred to as “polybags” – by switching to using a single “master” bag per large shipping box from the apparel factory to REI’s distribution centers. To increase packing efficiency and reduce packaging waste, we are implementing the “roll-pack” packaging method for most REI 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.
While we’re focused on reducing waste upstream, we're also committed to finding ways to recycle what we’re unable to eliminate. Starting in 2020, we will roll out a scalable backhaul solution to recycle polybags and other thin-film plastics that enter our operations.
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. The majority of the primary packaging for our REI branded products is now labeled with the How2Recycle guidance. REI was one of the first brands to adopt the How2Recycle Label, for our REI Co-op and Co-op Cycles product packaging, and we encourage other brands and retailers to join us in this commitment.
REI continues to work towards a goal of zero-waste (defined by industry as diverting 90% of waste from landfill) across our operations by 2020. Our aspiration drives us toward more efficient business and environmental practices as we seek to reduce solid waste and the costs associated with it, such as packaging, shipping, and disposal. Eliminating waste is good for our business and good for the environment. We use a "reduce, reuse, recycle" model 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 polybags for shipping of apparel and other items. This action alone could eliminate over 50 tons of plastic film waste per year.
- Achieving TRUE Zero Waste certification for our Sumner, WA Distribution Center in 2019, and working to certify our remaining two DCs in 2020.
- Partnering with Subaru as part of our Opt to Act initative throughout 2019 to enable customers to get hard-to-recycle items like snack wrappers, water bottles, and yoga mats collected for recycling with Terracycle. We hosted boxes for snack wrapper drop-off in all our stores, DCs, and offices, collecting over a half ton of material that will be made into things like park benches or climbing walls. At 16 collection events at stores around the country, we collected another half ton of yoga mats, water bottles, and other sporting goods for donation and recycling.
- Beginning the TRUE Zero Waste certification process of our new headquarters and at least 10 REI stores as Zero Waste facilities in 2021, and continuing to make progress on overall diversion across the co-op.
- Implementing backhaul of film plastics from our stores to our DCs for baling and recycling, expanding from a pilot at our Sumner, DC stores to all stores in our fleet. This will divert from landfill the largest segment of material currently in our waste stream.
- Increasing recycling and recovery options for difficult-to-recycle materials in our waste stream by partnering with innovators developing upcycled products.
- Composting food waste and paper towels at our headquarters location and in all stores where compost service accepting paper towels is available.
- Working with our suppliers to design out waste materials that affect our business operations.
Overall, REI diverted 78% of operational waste from landfill in 2019. This chart shows the breakdown in diversion performance for Retail Stores, DCs, and Offices. These tonnages are based on all locations where we have full visibility to the waste and recycling data.