The world’s biggest retailers are trying to replace the plastic shopping bag.
Target Corp.,Walmart Inc. andCVS Health Corp. unveiled a $15 million joint initiative on Tuesday to replace plastic bags with something else over the next three years. The companies, which each contributed $5 million, aim to create a global competition to find a way to change plastic bags or make them unneeded. Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Kroger Co. also plan to be involved.
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Called “Beyond the Bag,” the companies want to spark research about new materials for bags or technology and delivery systems that can render them obsolete. The challenge also will study consumers’ use of bags and the infrastructure that makes and distributes them.
The project will be overseen byClosed Loop Partners, a New York-based investment firm that’s working to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop, said a solution to the plastic bag “is going to require unexpected partnerships.”
While these companies typically compete for shoppers, they all face the same dilemma when it comes to bags. “We know that this is not something we can solve on our own,” said Eileen Howard Boone, chief sustainability officer at CVS Health.
Getting rid of bags isn’t as simple as offering reusable or paper options. While plastic bags are made from fossil fuels, their production requires far less energy than sturdier bags made out of cotton or double-bagged paper.
Another challenge is that consumers often forget to bring enough reusable bags to stores. Retailers also fret that shoppers may buy less because they might not have enough bags, or they lack an efficient way to get the goods home.
Globally, the planet goes through about 4 trillion bags a year, according to Waste Management Inc., and only about 1% of plastic bags end up getting properly recycled by consumers. When they do end up in the trash, they often get stuck in recycling and waste processing machines.
On average, shoppers “only use a plastic bag for 12 minutes before throwing it out, but it persists in our environment for hundreds of years in our waterways and landfills,” said Closed Loop’s Daly.
The plastic bag was introduced in supermarkets in 1977. While 32 countries and an increasing number of U.S. states have cracked down on their use, the coronavirus pandemic has led to something of a resurgence. With safety concerns surrounding the virus’s ability to survive on fabrics paramount, even Greenpeace has said that reusable plastic bags are safe to use for consumers.
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