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Product, Service & Design Innovation
CVS Health, Target, Walmart Share Insights from Piloting Ideas to Move ‘Beyond the Plastic Bag’

New report shares insights to guide retailers on effective reusable bag models — a key solution as regulations to reduce reliance on single-use plastic bags grow across the US.

Closed Loop PartnersCenter for the Circular Economy and its Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag have released a new resource to guide retailers looking to adopt reusable bag service models. The report, Beyond the Plastic Bag, shares key insights and analysis gathered from collaborative reusable bag pilots conducted in select stores of Founding Partners CVS Health, Target and Walmart throughout Northern California in 2021, as part of the Consortium’s Beyond the Bag pilots.

The Beyond the Bag Initiative aims to identify, pilot and implement viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag. The Center for the Circular Economy launched the Consortium in 2020 — convening three of the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailers to identify, test and implement innovative new design solutions that can adequately replace today’s single-use plastic retail bag. Since launch, the Consortium has multiplied in size: Kroger has joined as Grocery Sector Lead Partner; DICK’S Sporting Goods joined as Sports & Outdoors Sector Lead Partner; Dollar General as Value Sector Lead Partner; The TJX Companies as Apparel & Home Goods Sector Lead Partner; and Ulta Beauty as Beauty Sector Lead Partner. Ahold Delhaize USA Brands, Albertsons Companies, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Meijer, Wakefern Food Corp and Walgreens are Supporting Partners; and Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy serve as Environmental Advisory Partners.

The Consortium’s Innovation Partner, IDEO, worked closely with Closed Loop Partners and the three participating retailers in designing and running the reusable bag pilots in Northern California featured in the report. Findings from the Beyond the Bag pilots build on and complement additional learnings from Closed Loop Partners’ NextGen Consortium — dedicated to identifying, accelerating and scaling commercially viable, circular foodservice packaging solutions — which ran several reusable cup pilots in 2020, driving the Center’s work to rigorously test and hone reuse solutions to ensure that they achieve their intended impacts.

“Successfully implementing reuse models on the ground and accelerating their growth takes unprecedented collaboration. Since 2018, the Center for the Circular Economy has been convening competitors to address complex material challenges and advance circular solutions, including reuse,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy. “This collaboration with the nation’s largest retailers to test and pilot reusable bag solutions across multiple stores is a critical step toward reducing single-use plastic bag waste. Iterative testing and data-driven decision-making of reuse systems can help avoid unintended consequences, like insufficient recapture of reusable packaging or the one-to-one replacement of single-use plastics with ‘reusables.’ We hope that this report on the Beyond the Bag initiative serves as inspiration for forward-thinking organizations looking to bring reuse to the next level. The learnings from our pilots can help guide us toward a future in which reusing valuable materials and products in our economy becomes the commonsense norm.”

Approximately 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used each year in the US — most of which end up as waste in landfills and the environment. Alongside other complementary waste-mitigation strategies, reuse models play an important role in addressing single-use plastic packaging waste; and in addition to the myriad environmental benefits over single-use options, reuse models have been estimated to save food-service businesses alone $5 billion a year. As retailers work to respond to the urgent challenge and address increasing plastic bag regulations across the US, the report provides key findings on what drives an optimal shopper experience and uptake of reuse models:

Customer-facing journey for reusable bag services

  • Effective storytelling is foundational for building awareness

  • Convenience is imperative when it comes to adoption and sign-up

  • Customers are looking for a clear and easy reason to help them reuse

  • Accessible drop-off points and quick confirmation of return help build trust in the reuse system.

Behind-the-scenes action enabling reusable bag services

  • Partnering with the right stakeholders matters

  • Impact must be measured at every stage

  • Further scaling reuse systems will help catalyze efficiencies

“Through partnerships with innovative startups, collaboration with other partners, and buy-in from our customers, the Beyond the Bag pilots provided critical, data-driven analysis on the role that reuse models could play in plastic waste mitigation when thoughtfully designed and their impact successfully measured,” said Sheryl Burke, SVP of Corporate Social Responsibility for CVS Health. “We still have a lot to learn collectively, but we’re thrilled to continue our journey towards a more circular future for retail.”

Over the next year, the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag will continue to conduct extensive research and in-market testing of designs and innovative bag solutions that can reduce single-use plastic bag waste. These aim to inform the viability of solutions in different contexts, as well as the full potential of solutions to more sustainably, accessibly and effectively get goods home.

“The Beyond the Bag Pilots fostered an unprecedented platform for connectivity between trailblazing reuse startups, customers, Walmart, and other retailers in the industry,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, EVP and Chief Sustainability Officer for Walmart. “The pilots created the space for collective experimentation; and provided data-driven insights on the ease, convenience and perceived benefits of the models tested. This kind of on-the-ground diligence from pilots is critical to inform what could be next for reuse and where it could fit in a circular economy.”