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Product, Service & Design Innovation
New Guide Details Tangible Solutions for Retailers to Move ‘Beyond the Bag’

Playbook highlights solutions from the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag that drive near-term, positive environmental impact and cost savings from eliminating single-use plastic bags.

Today, Closed Loop PartnersCenter for the Circular Economy and its Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag release a new playbook to provide near-term reductions in single-use plastic bags that can be implemented by any retailer — from local stores to national brands. The resource highlights effective solutions to reduce the number of bags needed by retailers and encourage the use of reusable bags customers already have at home. Key insights from the playbook are based on research, interviews, surveys and learnings from 17 of the world’s leading retailers across four key categories: communications, employee training, bag and fixture design, and customer incentives.

The playbook highlights 25 strategies across these four categories that cater to retailers at different stages of their journey. These strategies include detailed guidance on how best to prompt customers to bring their own bags, where to place reusable bags, items retailers can skip bagging, which customer incentives can be deployed and other strategies.

The playbook insights are the product of a first-of-its-kind collaboration among Closed Loop Partners and many of the world's leading retailers — including 14 retail partners in the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag and three external retailers. Experts from Closed Loop Partners led the creation of the playbook, supported by retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle — which performed quantitative and qualitative surveys and deep-dive interviews with retailers, supplemented with secondary research and analysis.

Reducing the number of single-use bags used in retail can make a tremendous difference. Even a 1 percent bag reduction has a significant impact on our global waste footprint — in the US, that is equivalent to 1 billion fewer bags used and discarded. Beyond driving progress toward sustainability goals, using fewer single-use bags can also help retailers reduce costs, engage employees, support customers, and build brand reputation and loyalty.

“Our new playbook walks retailers through strategies they can implement today to get teams and customers on board with reducing single-use bags in stores and encourage shoppers to reuse their own bags,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “This tool is for retailers who are looking for quick wins and those seeking innovative, new approaches. We hope these insights serve as an inspiration to retailers looking to reduce their plastic footprint and deploy bag reduction solutions.”

The Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag has been working to reimagine the retail bag in the store and across emerging channels such as local delivery since its launch in 2020 with CVS Health, Target, Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens. Since then, the initiative has grown from five retail partners to 15 and deployed more than 6,000 iterative tests, surveys and pilots across markets to help accelerate the development of sustainable bag solutions; in 2021, nine winners were chosen across three categories: reuse and refill, enabling technology, and innovative materials. This year, the Consortium will go back into market on a larger scale, testing complementary strategies to reduce single-use bags.

This Spring, Consortium partners (which now also include Ahold Delhaize USA Brands, Albertsons Companies, DICK’S Sporting Goods, Dollar General, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Meijer, The TJX Companies, Ulta Beauty and Wakefern Food Corp) will test multiple strategies from the Playbook simultaneously in two cities in Arizona and Colorado — launching signage, marketing and customer prompts across stores. The goal of these tests is to enable a broader cultural shift towards customers bringing their own reusable bags from home. The Consortium is inviting other retailers — from mom-and-pop shops to large brands — to join and test the same prompts, signage and marketing materials in order to have the broadest reach with customers and to create ecosystem-wide impact.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, where there is legislation banning single-use bags in certain stores, the Consortium will test a returnable bag service model — such as those offered by Challenge winners ChicoBag, Goatote and Returnity — in which customers are borrowing a bag onsite (or after shopping online) and reusing it before eventually returning it at the same or different retailer’s store to be washed, redistributed and reused — a solution for when customers forget to bring their own reusable bags.

Interested retailers are encouraged to email [email protected] to inquire about joining the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag; to gain access to useful research, insights and continued in-market experimentation; and to potentially participate in the pilots in Arizona and Colorado.