Wal-Mart is planning to become a major recycler of scrap tires and other materials.
That's the word from Gary Vernon, senior environmental manager-Environmental Services for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The executive from the nation's largest retailer and private employer spoke at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries' 2007 Scrap Tire Business Summit, held in Rosemont, Ill.
``A few years ago, Wal-Mart had to decide whether to take a defensive posture on the environment or a leading role,'' said Vernon, ``What we learned is that if you take environmental sustainability and make it a policy, it's a very profitable way of doing business.''
Wal-Mart, which has more than 6,700 stores and clubs in 14 countries and a truck fleet of nearly 7,000 tractors and more than 43,000 trailers, had plenty of areas where it found it could conserve, according to Vernon.
``We eliminated 30 percent of the energy used by our stores and clubs just by doing things like eliminating refrigerators with open cases,'' he said. ``We were told it would reduce sales, but sales actually increased. And improving the gas mileage in our truck fleet by 1 mpg saves us $52 million annually.''
Wal-Mart's conservation and recycling goals are simple and sweeping, according to Vernon. They are to supply the company 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain natural resources and the environment.
And tire recycling is a key factor in these goals.
``We're ready to take the leading edge in tire recycling,'' he said. ``We're trying to find market segments where we can actually create demand. The product has to make sense; our customers have to want to buy it.''
The first product area in which Wal-Mart aggressively pursued tire recycling is rubber mulch-a small segment of that market, Vernon said, but one the company is working hard to promote. To demonstrate the value of rubber mulch to customers, he said, Wal-Mart is installing it in all its new stores, as well as placing it in as many of its existing stores as possible.
Other tire recycling areas Wal-Mart wants to promote include rubber mats, molded products, lawn and garden products and rubberized asphalt in its store parking lots, according to Vernon. It also is starting to use crumb rubber to make absorbent products, particularly for use in auto repair shops that perform oil changes.
``We have 3,000 auto centers, 2,500 of which do oil changes,'' he said.