Can a reinvented bag revamp sustainable retail?

Discussion
Photos: GOATOTE; ChicoBag; 99Bridges
Aug 05, 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, Target 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.

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, 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.

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.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think any of the options presented in this competition offer a truly convenient alternative to the single use plastic bag? What do you think is the best way to reduce or eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags without compromising convenience to customers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"With my consumer hat on, the kiosk idea seems most relatable to me."
"It’s a bag. I don’t even track my handbag. Or my luggage when I travel. Why would I track a grocery bag?"
"...the best way for retailers to reduce plastic bags usage is to stop providing them altogether – the cold turkey approach. "

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11 Comments on "Can a reinvented bag revamp sustainable retail?"


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Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

With my consumer hat on, the kiosk idea seems most relatable to me. I carry around reusable shopping bags, but dang it if I don’t remember to grab them until the minute I’m in the store. So it has to be about convenience, and I’m not sure the novelty factor of tracking a bag via app is going to beat the “oh, crap, I need a bag” moment.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

There is always a price to pay for “convenience.” There are a few alternatives to the single-use plastic bag. The one that comes to mind is a very simple canvas bag. You can’t kill it with a cannon and it is also magical in that it appears to expand to accommodate whatever one is trying to fit into it. The concept is only around 100 years old. The problem is not the bag but the culture of the consumer to adopt it and use it regularly. Regrettably, we are not there yet. Some consumers are still willing to pay the price of pollution for the sake of “convenience.”

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Quite honestly, I think some of these are very gimmicky. I mean, an app to track bags – who has time for that? Reusable bags and bags made from low impact materials are certainly sensible. So too is the idea of self-scanning carts (or just self-scan) at grocery stores, much like Amazon 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. No need for all that transferring and repacking at the register. I used to use this at Waitrose in the UK and it was more convenient and saved time, which made it easier to shift customer behavior. And they gave you some very robust containers/bags when you signed up for the self-scanning service.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

This is a significant behavior change for consumers and thus won’t happen overnight, even though the desire for change is certainly there. But the gap between what we mean to do and what we actually do is still large, driven by old subconscious habits. Incentivizing change through a reward mechanism is by far the most effective way to begin instilling a new habit to bring your own bags. 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.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Convenience is the key! 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.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

I do most of my shopping at Costco, and I have never felt the need to use a plastic bag. At other stores though, I used one only because I felt that that was the norm (I don’t anymore). The point I am trying to make I guess is, the best way for retailers to reduce plastic bags usage is to stop providing them altogether – the cold turkey approach. They will be surprised how creatively customers (and entrepreneurs) will fill the gap sustainably.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I admit that I am not evolved enough to remember to bring the dozens of cloth bags I have purchased over the years shopping with me. I always forget about them until I’m in the checkout lane. And then of course I buy more.

Most consumers expect to get a bag when making a purchase. The last time I shopped at Aerie my purchase was packed in a reusable eco bag; that makes sense. And I like the idea of a kiosk to grab bags if you forget yours, but some of these ideas, like an app that tracks bags, made me laugh out loud. It’s a bag. I don’t even track my handbag. Or my luggage when I travel. Why would I track a grocery bag?

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I keep reusable bags in the car, but sometimes you just forget to bring them to the store. Personally I just tell them no bag and push the cart to the car and load it into a foldable crate in the trunk and return the cart. It is a behavior change for sure. Out of the above, 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.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I’d lean toward the “cold-turkey” approach that Venky proposes. Just ban ’em. Let the people figure it out. But also offer polyester canvas totes for a couple of bucks that can be ground up and recycled when they wear out.

Natural Grocers sells a collapsible rectangular tote with stiffened sides and strap handles that safely holds the equivalent of two large paper sacks or about 6 plastic ones. They perform so well that I use them at other stores, or even when picking up take-out food from restaurants.

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

storewanderer
Guest
4 months 3 days ago
The problem is sanitation of the reusable bags. Most of the ones on the market are not the machine washable cloth ones, they are just super thick plastic ones that will fall apart if you try to throw them into a washing machine. Some I have received recently have a “flock lined” interior that is basically impossible to clean and an outer plastic shell. Those are not properly sanitized. The time, resources, and environmental impact on properly sanitizing the reusable bags is significant. The reality is disposable packaging is not going away in the supermarket environment. This includes at the checkstand. Sure, Natural Grocers says no bags, but they have a lot of boxes up front for customers to take, stores are very low volume/low traffic (does the average store even do $250k a week in sales?), and a lot of the transactions tend to be on the small side. Other stores that have no bags, like Costco, already have the items shrink wrapped in bundles using in many cases thin plastic film. My favorite… Read more »
storewanderer
Guest
4 months 3 days ago
I don’t want to tear these solutions apart, but I thought the Closed Loop Partners program was to be reinventing the bag. This is simply taking the same old reusable bag and trying to change the delivery method, track it, or incentivize its use. I must have misunderstood. I was expecting Closed Loop Partners to propose solutions such as bags made with alternative materials or some kind of recycling incentives (overseas they are repurposing used thin plastic bags into bricks; in the US they have repurposed them into park benches) or something else along those lines. So to that point, no — none of these solutions address anything that hasn’t already been addressed. The retailers already resell reusable bags in-store (how is that different from the kiosk), many retailers already incentivize the customer for use of reusable bags (Whole Foods 5 cent donation, other retailers with a 5 cent discount, etc.), and an app to remind customers to use reusable bags — the Safeway coupon app has had a reminder like that on its app… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"With my consumer hat on, the kiosk idea seems most relatable to me."
"It’s a bag. I don’t even track my handbag. Or my luggage when I travel. Why would I track a grocery bag?"
"...the best way for retailers to reduce plastic bags usage is to stop providing them altogether – the cold turkey approach. "

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