Walmart, Target and CVS Health have joined with The Kroger Co. and Walgreens in the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, an organization founded to test options to the single-use plastic shopping bag now used by mass retailers nationwide.
Teaming up with The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, the retailers have collectively pledged more than $15 million to launch the Beyond the Bag Initiative. New York-based Closed Loop Partners said Tuesday that the three-year Beyond the Bag effort will urge retailers to “think outside the box” to address the complex global waste challenge of plastic shopping bags.
The consortium’s global Innovation Challenge, in tandem with global design firm IDEO, will encourage innovators, suppliers, designers and problem-solvers to submit ideas for sustainable bag solutions, with an initial focus on implementation in the United States. Closed Loop Partners, too, said it will launch the Circular Accelerator, develop potential pilots and marshal infrastructure investments to support market-ready solutions.
“By coming together to tackle the problem, we aim to accelerate the pace of innovation and the commercialization of sustainable solutions,” Kathleen McLaughlin, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer for Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart, said in a statement. "Through efforts like the Innovation Challenge and the Circular Accelerator, we hope the Beyond the Bag Initiative will surface affordable, practical solutions that meet the needs of customers and reduce plastic waste."
More than 100 billion single-use plastic retail bags are used in the U.S. annually, and less than 10% of these are recycled, the consortium reports on its website. What’s more, a plastic bag’s lifespan greatly outlasts it usage. The average time of use for a single-use plastic bag is 12 minutes, compared with an average of 1,000 years for it to break down. The environmental impact: Plastic retail bags are among the top 10 items found on beaches and waterways worldwide each year.
Minneapolis-based Target reports that, among its conservation efforts, the company has updated its plastic retail bags to be composed of 40% recycled content.
“We believe in serving our guests and communities with actions that reduce our footprint on the planet,” said Amanda Nusz, vice president of corporate responsibility for Target. “We’re proud to partner with Closed Loop Partners and other leading retailers to take on a challenge facing the entire industry. We welcome others to join us in this collective effort as we aim to design a better solution.”
CVS Health, Target and Walmart are the consortium’s founding partners. The coalition is now seeking other retailers — from general merchandise to grocery, apparel, pharmacy, home goods and other sectors — to participate in the Beyond the Bag project.
Cincinnati-based Kroger serves as the initiative’s grocery sector lead partner. “Our commitment to phase out single-use plastic bags across our enterprise and support innovative solutions on our path to ‘Zero Hunger | Zero Waste’ aligns perfectly with Closed Loop Partners’ goal to reinvent the retail shopping bag,” said Keith Dailey, group vice president of corporate affairs at Kroger.
Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy serves as environmental advisory partners to provide the consortium with insight on environmental impact and solutions.
“We know how important it is to bring our customers along on our sustainability journey, keeping in mind that most are looking for convenience with minimal environmental impact,” according to Eileen Howard Boone, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy and chief sustainability officer at Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Health. “This collaboration with Target, Walmart and other like-minded retailers and innovators allows for collective reach that can be truly impactful.”
Walgreens joins the initiative as a supporting partner. “We encourage other retailers to join us in this commitment and bid farewell to the single-use plastic bag for good,” Alain Turenne, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens, said in a statement. “This consortium reflects Walgreens’ enduring commitment to advancing innovative ideas to address critical sustainability issues.”
The Beyond the Bag Challenge is slated to be launched with IDEO on Aug. 3. Ideas for single-use plastic bag alternatives can be submitted through the Beyond the Bag Challenge website until Sept. 10.
“The status quo has been shaken, presenting a unique opportunity to build back better and reimagine a more resilient and sustainable way of doing business,” said Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “During challenging times, unexpected and unprecedented collaboration is required, and we’re excited to work with leading retailers like CVS Health, Target, Walmart and others — along with the entire industry — to take effective action.”