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CVS, Walmart And Target Consort To Solve The Plastic Bag Problem

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 12, 2021

Single-use plastic has gone out of fashion in the U.S. Spurred by a newfound consumer focus on environmentalism, retailers are abandoning them and some municipalities are instituting bans. Finding an adequate, convenient replacement for throwaway grocery bags, however, is easier said than done, and some of the biggest names in the retail industry are putting their weight behind an initiative to create one.

An organization called The Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, which counts CVS, Walmart

WMT
, Target

TGT
and Closed Loop Partners among its members, launched an innovation challenge in July, 2020 to create a reusable bag, according to Yahoo! Life. In February, the group chose contest winners and, beginning in early August, will pilot four different reusable bag solutions at nine high-traffic CVS, Target and Walmart stores in Northern California. The solutions being piloted are:

  • Goatote: an in-store kiosk for reusable bags;
  • Fill it Forward: a reuse tracking app for reusable bags;
  • ChicoBag: A solution that reminds customers to reuse bags and gives rewards for using them;
  • 99Bridges: an app that tracks end-to-end bag usage.

“Quite honestly, I think some of these are very gimmicky,” wrote RetailWire BrainTrust member Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, in an online discussion on RetailWire last week. “I mean, an app to track bags – who has time for that?”

Others saw more promise in the solutions that utilize tried-and-true retail tactics to shift behavior.

“Incentivizing change through a reward mechanism is by far the most effective way to begin instilling a new habit to bring your own bags,” wrote DeAnn Campbell, chief strategy officer at Hoobil8. “Trackers and reminders do little to make us willing to go back into the house and get our bags when we’re already pulling out of the driveway, but the potential for a discount might succeed.”

“Convenience is the key!” wrote Kathleen Fischer, director of retail marketing at EnVista. “An in-store kiosk would be most likely to be used – maybe with a tie-in to rewards to give consumers a greater incentive to change their habits.”

One BrainTrust member, however, saw rewards programs as potentially having the opposite effect.

“Out of the [solutions being piloted], the kiosk probably makes the most sense because it solves the immediate problem without tying into apps and reward programs which people are burning out on,” wrote Kenneth Leung, retail and customer experience expert.

While promoting and/or incentivizing in-store bag reuse is at the heart of all of these solutions, the consortium is also supporting other types of plastic bag alternatives.

Packaging companies Domtar

UFS
, PlasticFri and Sway are working on alternative materials for bags to replace plastic which will, as part of the initiative, be tested to meet the needs of both customers and recycling/composting facilities, according to a press release.

Bags by circular commerce startups Returnity and Eon will be piloted through Walmart delivery.

For Mr. Saunders, some of the potential solutions to single-use plastic bags are already in play.

“Reusable bags and bags made from low impact materials are certainly sensible,” wrote Mr. Saunders. “So too is the idea of self-scanning carts (or just self-scan) at grocery stores, much like Amazon

AMZN
has. With those you can simply put a reusable bag or container in the cart, load it up as you go round, take it to the car, and then carry it into the home.”

While plastic bag bans grew common in major U.S. cities in the years leading up to the novel coronavirus pandemic, single-use plastics quickly came back into circulation beginning in March 2020. Concerns over potential viral transmission on the surfaces of reusable grocery bags were eventually deemed unfounded, but single-use plastic bags remained available in grocery stores to facilitate quicker shopping trips.

With the apparent waning of the pandemic in late 2020, states like New Jersey began exploring the reintroduction of strict regulations against single-use plastic bags.

“Based on observation, I think that many shoppers were just starting to ‘get’ the routine of reusable grocery bags and totes until Covid-19 caution forced a shift in behavior,” wrote James Tenser, president of VSN Strategies. “It’s time to get back on track. We don’t need a high-tech solution for this, but retailers do need to establish a norm and kindly reinforce it. Shoppers know plastic bags are bad news. They just need a little nudge.”

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