For decades, the single-use plastic bag reigned as the dominant design solution for getting a purchase home. But that popularity comes at a great cost. It’s estimated that we use 100 billion single-use plastic bags per year in the U.S. alone and less than 10 percent of these are recycled. While the convenience of the plastic retail bag can’t be disputed, the negative impact – considering its short use and long lifespan (400+ years by some estimates) –have led to rising consumer concern, advocacy campaigns, and regulatory bans and fees.
The two main challenges with today’s bags stem from raw material usage and material recovery after-use. Today, the majority of single-use plastic bags are made from low-cost, fossil fuel-derived virgin plastic and are not compostable, often winding up in the landfill, in the natural environment, or in the wrong recycling stream. Many customers are also unsure of the most sustainable choice, as alternatives made from paper or reusable bags made from thicker plastic (usually polyethylene), cotton, woven polypropylene, polyester, or bioplastic often have a higher environmental footprint.
Enter the Beyond the Bag Challenge. Part of the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag — a global initiative launched by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners with founding partners CVS Health, Target, and Walmart — the Challenge aims to identify innovative new design solutions that serve the function of today’s single-use plastic retail bag, delivering ease and convenience for consumers while striving to lessen the impact on the environment. It will launch on August 3, 2020 in partnership with global design firm IDEO.
As the retail experience rapidly evolves with new technologies and consumer preferences – many consumers are now shopping online, and interacting with autonomous systems — all of which open up opportunities for design innovation. Climate change, the global pandemic, and growing plastic waste are also revealing vulnerabilities in the current system. The world needs alternatives to meet these changes, and many in the retail industry have been working toward a more sustainable bag for years. Ultimately, however, no current retail bag option truly solves for delivering convenience to customers while delivering on expectations for sustainability.
The Beyond the Bag Initiative convenes some of the largest and most influential retailers in the United States to think outside the box and drive long-term, transformational thinking to address a complex global waste challenge. It seeks to identify innovative new design solutions that are compatible in diverse retail environments, deliver the ease and convenience of the single-use plastic bag, and reduce or eliminate the environmental impact. Solutions will address the packaging that transports products from point of sale to final customer destination. We are exploring reusable systems, altogether bagless solutions and innovative materials for a less wasteful future.
Participants are encouraged to help reinvent the timeless experience of getting goods home by joining the Beyond the Bag Challenge until September 10, and read about the design opportunities to replace today’s single-use plastic retail bag in the “A New Way Home” report. Winning Solutions are eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding.
The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners convenes brands and industry leaders to solve material challenges and advance the circular economy.
IDEO is a global design company that creates positive impact through design.