Big-name retailers like Walmart, Target, and Kroger have teamed up with Closed Loop Partners to dispose of disposable plastic bags.

By Food & Wine
Updated July 23, 2020
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Thanks to Closed Loop Partners and its big-name collaborators like Starbucks and McDonald’s, the days of the disposable coffee cup are hopefully numbered. Now Closed Loop—the self-described "investors in the circular economy"—is at it again with a new target and a new group of high-profile co-conspirators. Watch out plastic bags: You're in the crosshairs.

Yesterday, Closed Loop Partners announced the formation of the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag. Founded together with CVS Health, Target, and Walmart, and already joined by Kroger and Walgreens, the group is launching the Beyond the Bag Initiative—an attempt to find more sustainable solutions to the current single-use plastic bag. Together, they've already committed over $15 million to the three-year project, with other retailers being encouraged to join. The Consortium also currently includes two "environmental advisory partners": Conservation International and the Ocean Conservancy.

Similar to the NextGen Cup Challenge (as the coffee cup initiative was called), Beyond the Bag has its own Innovation Challenge, which "invites innovators, suppliers, designers and problem-solvers to submit their ideas for game-changing sustainable bag solutions." From there, Closed Loop is launching a "Circular Accelerator" to hopefully further develop these concepts into a "market-ready solution."

Ideo—the global design firm partnering on the challenge—explains that potential solutions "may include innovative materials, reusable models, and/or bagless solutions" so long as they are able to "transport goods from retailer to final destination while replacing the single-use plastic retail bag with an improved solution." Submission will be open from August 3 to September 10, with the winners being announced beginning November 24. Those selected proposals will be "eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding."

"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 Walmart, said in the announcement. "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."

Closed Loop points out that Americans go through 100 billion single-use plastic bags every year, with less than 10 percent of those bags actually getting recycled. The average use time of each bag is just 12 minutes, but their average lifespan on Earth is 1,000 years. Meanwhile, existing solutions—like reusable bags—may not be solving the issue. "We had a 42 percent increase in sales of reusable bags last year, which is great on one hand, but how much are people using them?" McLaughlin told Fast Company. "Have they really solved the problem? I'm not sure."

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