Beyond the plastic bag: triggering a radical change for reuse


The Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy, in partnership with the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, has released a new resource called “Beyond the Plastic Bag: Sparking a Sea Change for Reuse.” It shares key insights gathered from reusable bag pilot programs conducted at select CVS Health, Target, and Walmart locations — and is intended to help retailers launch their own effective reusable bag designs.

In the foreword, the CEO of the Center for the Circular Economy, Kate Daly, acknowledges that “it will take unprecedented collaboration to address the scale of our global plastic waste challenge”. But, “bringing together the nation’s largest retailers to test and pilot sustainable packaging solutions is a critical step toward this collective goal.”

The report notes that approximately 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used each year in the United States, most of which end up as waste. So, as retailers struggle to meet the systemic challenge and cope with increasing regulations, the authors seek to determine the factors that drive “optimal shopping experience and adoption of reuse models.” .

In the summer of 2021, select CVS Health, Target, and Walmart locations in Northern California participated in a 10-week pilot program where customers could “borrow” a bag and use it multiple times before returning it to the store. the same store or in a store of a different brand to be washed, redistributed and reused by other customers. Lessons learned from the pilots, as Daly noted, “demonstrated first-hand what resonated with customers, retailers, and other critical stakeholders to help further shape the solutions.” And, they showed how “reuse start-ups and large corporations can collaborate to create systems that are easy and convenient for customers and businesses to use.”

One of the first questions posed by the researchers and the report is: “How do we approach the elimination of the single-use plastic bag?” There is no single solution. For example, “Community and individual needs are not uniform. A model that works well in a suburban area where the majority of customers use a car is very different from a model that works for someone based in an urban area who has to shop on foot or by public transport. In other words, “We need to think about how, where and when consumers shop, ensuring solutions are convenient, accessible and inclusive.”

The researchers then seek to address the role of retailers in promoting reuse and claim that they “play a critical role in increasing the visibility and accessibility of innovative sustainable solutions to the public”, as well as by providing “fertile testing grounds” for new solutions. The pilot program provided much information in this area, highlighted below.

Key points to remember about the customer journey for reusable bag services:

  • Effective storytelling is fundamental to building brand awareness
  • Convenience is imperative when it comes to adoption and registration
  • Customers are looking for a clear and simple reason to help them reuse
  • Accessible drop-off points and fast return confirmation help build trust in the reuse system

Key takeaways regarding behind-the-scenes actions enabling reusable bag services:

  • It is important to partner with the right stakeholders
  • Impact must be measured at every stage
  • Further scaling up reuse systems will help catalyze efficiencies

The report details the pilot process itself and identifies “universally applicable critical moments” in reuse services:

  • Awareness: customer awareness is a process worth investing in, as the success of the rest of the journey depends on this first step; it must also be at the right time
  • Adoption and registration: registration must be easy and the price reasonable
  • Use/Reuse: Reuse services are most convenient when offered in multiple locations and with multiple brands; it’s also imperative to reduce friction for customers, know that aesthetics matter, and understand that different shoppers respond to different inducements.
  • Returns: Providing prompt confirmation and rewards encourages returns, and again, it should be frictionless

As Amanda Nusz, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Target and President of the Target Foundation, observed, “We are grateful for the insights provided by these pilots, and we are applying what we have learned to identify the bag options that work best for our customers, powering more circular systems across retail. »

The report recognizes that reuse is not “the only answer to material environmental challenges and must complement multiple waste reduction strategies”. Because after all, “every reusable must be recycled at some point when it has passed its viable use.” Thus, the success of reuse models “depends on the right partnerships, contexts, sustainable sourcing of materials, displacement of existing single-use packaging systems, and sustained follow-up behavior of operator, retailer and client.

Over the next year, the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag will continue to conduct extensive research and market testing of innovative bag designs and solutions that can reduce single-use plastic bag waste. In the meantime, says Daly, “We hope this report serves as an inspiration to forward-thinking organizations looking to take reuse to the next level.”

See the full report here.


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