- Target, Walmart and Kroger have entered a partnership with other retailers in a quest to speed up the development of a viable alternative to the plastic bag widely used by customers, according to a press release.
- The newly formed Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, which also includes CVS Health and Walgreens, is spearheading a three-year project known as the Beyond the Bag Initiative that aims to replace the current bag technology with a more sustainable solution. Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy are advising the consortium, whose partners have dedicated more than $15 million to the effort.
- The consortium is working with IDEO, a firm that helps companies develop products that are desirable, feasible and affordable through an approach known as design thinking. IDEO's past projects include the mouse technology used by Apple for its Lisa computer, the predecessor to the Mac.
The everyday plastic bag has taken on outsize significance as retailers have looked for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. But efforts to replace them over the years have had only limited success and stoked significant controversy.
The reusable bags that many consumers bring with them on shopping trips have not been able to stop what environmentalists say is an assault on the planet perpetrated by the billions of bags people use and throw away every year. Meanwhile, plastic bag proponents have cast the ubiquitous sacks as the safer option, pointing to research showing that reusable bags can be breeding grounds for bacteria and other hazards.
The pandemic has only heightened the debate over bag technology, as retailers and authorities temporarily banned reusable bags over concern they could help spread COVID-19. Those bans have led to the suspension of state and local ordinances requiring retailers to charge for plastic bags or abandon them altogether, although some jurisdictions have recently reversed course.
The sense that plastic bags are safer to use during the pandemic than current alternatives has helped temporarily boost demand for plastic film, which had been declining, according to The Freedonia Group, a market research firm.
The new effort to develop an alternative to plastic bags focuses on the resources of ordinarily fierce competitors on a shared goal. The retailers were convened by Closed Loop Partners, an environmentally oriented investment firm that includes former corporate executives, government officials and fund managers. The firm, which said in its announcement about the bag-reinvention project that it welcomes additional retailers to participate, previously formed a consortium to bring together food and beverage companies to develop a compostable cup.
In looking to build support for the Beyond the Bag Initiative, Closed Loop Partners presented statistics that show the scale of the challenge that lies ahead. The United States alone uses more than 100 billion single-use plastic bags every year, the organization said, citing data from Waste Management Journal.