Somewhere Beyond the Plastic Bag Lies the Future of Retail

Feb 23, 2021 11:00 AM ET
Article

By Jane Ewing, Senior Vice President, Sustainability

Globally, people use about 1 trillion plastic bags a year, and each bag has a dismally short lifespan of as little as 12 minutes. Fewer than 10% of them are recycled in the U.S., and single-use plastic bags continue to be one of the top ten items found along beaches and waterways. This is a massive challenge we must approach as an industry. As we all know, however, true innovation is rarely immediate.

Last summer, we set out on the path to look beyond the plastic retail bag and identify solutions that could serve a similar function, while delivering convenience for customers and lessening the environmental impact. Through our engagement in the Beyond the Bag Initiative, and our own endeavors in Mexico and Vermont, we’re working hard to accelerate the pace of innovation and viable, sustainable solutions.

Beyond the Bag Innovation Challenge Winners

In 2020, Walmart joined Closed Loop Partners’ “Beyond the Bag” effort as a Founding Partner, along with Target and CVS Health. Since then, the consortium has welcomed additional support from other retailers, including Kroger, The TJX Companies, Inc., Dollar General, DICK'S Sporting Goods and more. The Beyond the Bag Challenge, launched with global design firm IDEO, received a host of extraordinary ideas from all around the world. Solutions centered around novel technologies, leveraging the internet of things to connect customers to circular bag systems in-store or at home. Other proposals brought innovative materials, or built on existing ones, to drive alternative solutions to single-use plastic bags.

Upon thorough reviews by retail partners, environmental advisers and subject matter experts, we’re thrilled to share that what began as more than 450 submissions ultimately became nine winners:

  • ChicoBag: A low- to no-cost reusable solution for those prone to forgetfulness.
  • Eon: Powering the connected circular bag with CircularID, creating the systems and operations to incentivize circularity.
  • SmartC: A smart tag-and-bag system built for the digital generation.
  • Domtar: Strong, light and stretchable – this is the better paper bag.
  • Fill it Forward: Give back, track your impact, earn rewards and never forget the bag you already own.
  • GOATOTE: Enabling access to clean, reusable bags no matter where, when or how you shop.
  • PlasticFri: Their Starch-Based Compostable Bag is made from agricultural waste.
  • Returnity: Reusable packaging solutions that scale through smart-system deployment.
  • Sway: Seaweed-derived replacements for single-use plastic bags.

Winners will receive a portion of $1 million in non-equity funding and are eligible for additional funding and support from Consortium Partners to help with testing, piloting and scaling efforts. We look forward to piloting some of the winning solutions. While these are in development, we remain committed to taking our own operations beyond the bag wherever we can. Let’s take a look.

Bagless in Mexico

Walmart Mexico y Centroamerica is going bagless. As regulations continued changing, we knew we’d have to stop offering plastic bags. But instead of offering yet another single-use solution, we made the decision to go fully bagless and encourage our customers to look to reusable bags. By the end of December 2020, over 72% of our stores in Mexico weren’t providing plastic bags.

Vermont pilot

We’ve just launched a bagless pilot in Vermont that underlines our commitment to achieving zero waste and ultimately moving toward a circular economy where the materials we use stay in use. With 78% of our Vermont customers supporting bagless options, this is an opportunity to understand how we can meet their needs and honor our commitment to sustainability. Key learnings from the final outcome of the pilot will be used to determine future direction for our company’s bagless efforts.

The future of the retail bag and how you can help

Again, big change can’t happen in a vacuum. It takes all of us, engaging with new ideas and trying new things with a common cause in mind. It’s that very reason we invite our associates and customers to play a role in working toward sustainability. Small actions ladder up to big impact – from carrying a reusable water bottle and recycling used plastic bags in many of our stores to bringing your own reusable bag when you shop. Bonus: If you are a Walmart+ member, don’t forget your reusable bags so when you use mobile scan & go, you can save time (and plastic) as you scan, pay and go on your way!

We’re committed to a more sustainable way of doing business, and we believe that somewhere out there, beyond the bag, lies a brighter, cleaner future. If you are interested in learning more about recycling, check out The Recycling Partnership’s Top Ten Recycling Facts.