Want to Reinvent the Single-Use Plastic Bag? How to Get a Part of $1M in Funding

Two of the country’s biggest rival retailers have joined forces to replace the plastic shopping bag — and they’re inviting innovators to help find the solution.

Big-box giants Walmart and Target announced yesterday that they formed a consortium — including grocery chain Kroger, as well as CVS Health and Walgreens — in an effort to reinvent the single-use plastic bag used at retail stores across the country.

Led by New York-based investment firm Closed Loop Partners, the group has committed more than $15 million to launch the initiative, dubbed Beyond the Bag. It has invited designers and suppliers to submit their ideas for sustainable bag solutions and models through its global Innovation Challenge, with an initial focus on implementation in the U.S. The best ideas will be eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding and enter a product accelerator with Closed Loop Partners.

“By coming together to tackle the problem, we aim to accelerate the pace of innovation and the commercialization of sustainable solutions,” Walmart EVP and chief sustainability officer Kathleen McLaughlin said in a statement.

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Target VP of corporate responsibility Amanda Nusz added, “We welcome others to join us in this collective effort as we aim to design a better solution.”

According to Closed Loop Partners, the solution should address the packaging that transports products from point-of-sale to the final customer destination. It must be “compatible in diverse retail environments,” as well as deliver the convenience of the single-use plastic bag but reduce or eliminate its environmental impact.

A study that appeared on the Waste Management Journal found that more than 100 billion single-use plastic retail bags are used annually in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that less than 10% of these are recycled, while the Ocean Conservancy reports that plastic retail bags are among the top 10 items found on beaches and waterways around the world each year.

The Beyond the Bag initiative, said Closed Loop Partners, was launched amid global risks from mounting plastic waste, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic — all of which have “revealed the vulnerabilities of our current system.” Research shows that plastic bags are used for about 12 minutes on average and are estimated to have a lifespan of 400 years or more, leading to rising consumer concerns, advocacy campaigns and regulatory bans or fees, such as those in New York and California.

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