Beyond the Bag Consortium Launches Its Largest Reusable Bag Pilots to Date to Drive Reduction of Single-Use Plastic Bags

By Closed Loop Partners

April 19, 2023

CVS Health, Target, other Fortune 500 retailers and local shops catalyze reuse solutions to reduce single-use bags in 150+ stores across U.S. cities

April 19, 2023 – The Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, managed by Closed Loop Partners, today announced its largest piloting initiative to date with two reusable bag pilots in three states, with multiple retailers including Consortium Founding Partners CVS Health and Target, as well as Sector Lead Partners DICK’S Sporting Goods, Dollar General, The Kroger Co., TJX and Ulta Beauty. Building on three years of insights, research and in-market tests, the Consortium is bringing its holistic approach to reduce single-use plastic bag waste to ambitious in-market interventions. The two complementary pilots will take place in over 150 stores, collectively engaging national retailers and local shops to test a range of solutions that aim to support customers in adopting reuse.

Bring Your Own Bag Pilot

The Consortium’s first pilot, the Bring Your Own Bag Pilot, will focus on testing the impact of collective action by retailers in driving broader cultural shifts, where bringing reusable bags becomes the norm wherever customers shop. Participating retailers include seven national brands––CVS Health, Target, DICK’S Sporting Goods, Dollar General, The Kroger Co., TJX and Ulta Beauty. The Consortium is also engaging retailers beyond the Consortium, from mom-and-pop shops to large brands, to reach even more local residents. All participating retailers will test the same solutions from the Consortium’s recently published Playbook––including signage, marketing and customer prompts about reusable bags––in stores across Denver, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona and the surrounding areas.

Returnable Bag Pilot

As a complement to the Bring Your Own Bag Pilot, the Consortium’s second pilot, the Returnable Bag Pilot, will test a new reusable bag solution to serve customers when they forget to bring their own reusable bags to stores. CVS Health and Target, two Founding Partners of the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, will collaboratively pilot a new ‘returnable bag’ service model across multiple stores, offering customers the opportunity to buy a bag at checkout, to be returned to any participating store to get their $1 deposit back. The bag will then be washed, redistributed and reused by other customers. This service model was built by the Consortium based on insights gathered over the last two years. The Returnable Bag Pilot will take place in New Jersey, where recent legislation banning single-use bags in certain stores underscores a need for reuse solutions that are environmentally sustainable and convenient for customers. Two winners of the Consortium’s Beyond the Bag Innovation Challenge, Returnity and 99Bridges, will provide operational services for the returnable bag system.

“We need to consider a range of needs, contexts and policy landscapes to create a less wasteful future for the retail bag. These two pilots are complementary by design, understanding that a diversity of solutions is needed to effect systems change and mitigate unintended consequences. We are bringing retailers together to advance reuse solutions collectively that support customers and reduce single-use plastic bag waste,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “We look forward to piloting at this large scale, engaging multiple retailers both in and beyond the Consortium to generate greater industry engagement and ecosystem impact.”

“As we expand these reusable bag solutions across CVS Pharmacy locations and learn about consumer behaviors, we continue to see the power in collective retail action,” said Sheryl Burke, SVP of Corporate Social Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at CVS Health. “With everyone’s drive, dedication and collaboration, we will continue making a lasting impact on creating a healthier world today and for future generations.”

“We’re proud to work with our guests, communities, and partners like the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag toward co-creating an equitable, regenerative future together,” said Amanda Nusz, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at Target. “Through our collective efforts, these pilots will offer valuable insights for enhancing circular capabilities and providing accessible alternatives to the single-use plastic bag for all.”

The Returnable Bag Pilot will run from April to July 2023, while the Bring Your Own Bag Pilot will be active from May to July 2023. Together, the two pilots paint a potential future where complementary reuse approaches work in parallel to reduce single-use plastic bag waste, focusing on increasing the use of existing reusable bags in the market, as well as creating solutions for when customers forget their own reusable bag. By testing in different markets, these pilots can also inform the viability of solutions across various markets, and inform potential for scale.

These pilots are a key step in the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag’s work since its launch in 2020 to reimagine the retail bag in stores and across emerging channels, such as buy-online-and-pickup-in-store and local delivery. This work builds on the Consortium’s progress in identifying innovative solutions, conducting customer research, analyzing policy and infrastructure needs and engaging diverse stakeholders. Moving forward, the Consortium will continue to conduct deep analysis, and share key insights with the broader industry to help accelerate systems change. Building a more sustainable future for the retail industry won’t happen overnight; advancing collaboration and activating the testing required to effectively meet customer needs can impact solutions as the industry addresses complex waste challenges.

If you are interested in learning more about the pilots, please visit our website here.


About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Adept at navigating every step in the value chain, Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create scalable innovations that target big system problems.

The Center currently manages three consortia: the NextGen Consortium, to advance solutions that can help address single-use foodservice packaging waste; the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag to identify, test and scale solutions that can help address single-use plastic bag waste; and the Composting Consortium, to pilot industry-wide solutions and build a roadmap for investment in technologies and


infrastructure that enable the recovery of compostable food packaging and food scraps. Learn more about the Center’s work here.

About the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag

The Beyond the Bag Initiative, launched by the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, aims to identify, pilot and implement viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag. Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy launched the initiative with Founding Partners CVS Health, Target and Walmart. The Kroger Co. joined as Grocery Sector Lead Partner, DICK’S Sporting Goods joined as Sports & Outdoors Sector Lead Partner, Dollar General as Value Sector Lead Partner, TJX as Apparel & Home Goods Sector Lead Partner, and Ulta Beauty as Beauty Sector Lead Partner. Ahold Delhaize USA companies, Albertsons Companies, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Meijer, Wakefern Food Corp., and Walgreens are Supporting Partners, and Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy serve as Environmental Advisory Partners. Learn more about the Consortium here.

Research and analysis

Transparency & Traceability

Digitizing Global Supply Chains to Unlock the Circular Advantage

Closed Loop Partners’ Ventures Group believes supply chain transparency and product traceability will be a critical enabling technology for the circular economy and an immediate response to the COVID crisis. Tracing supply chains can optimize the flow of materials, better manage inventories, and enable stakeholders to more quickly identify and react to increasing physical supply chain risk. These trends of transparency and traceability are flowing today through the food, consumer products and apparel supply chains, and these trends will increasingly affect every material and commodity. 

In this report, we answer the following key questions:

  • Why are brands and corporations adopting supply chain transparency and product traceability? 
  • Where do transparency and traceability solutions integrate in the supply chain?
  • How do transparency and traceability solutions actually track and trace products? 
  • What needs to be true for transparency and traceability solutions to be successful?


Join us as we work to shape our supply chains to be more resilient, more equitable, and more circular. 

Read the full report

To Package or Not to Package? 3 Critical Steps to Advance Sustainable Food Packaging

By Kate Daly

May 06, 2021

Today, brands and manufacturers are faced with endless choices and tradeoffs when it comes to food packaging. Take the packaging options for cheese. From individual foil-wrapped wedges to a round of Camembert packaged in its own rind to plastic-wrapped singles, to resealable plastic bags of shredded cheese, the multitude of options reflect the broader trend of diversifying packaging designs. Yet, which is the most cost-efficient option? Which creates less waste? What supports the longest shelf life? In today’s food system, these questions are relevant to every packaged food item — and packaging design determines not just how much packaging waste results, but also plays a role in how much food waste is generated. 

From a packaging perspective, the more sustainable option is often assumed to be the option that looks the most natural, or organic — the one with less plastic, or less material overall. In many cases this is true, but the assessment of “sustainability” becomes more complex when the package’s contents are food — one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions when mismanaged and wasted.

In its recent U.S. Climate Summit, the Biden administration set the ambitious goal of reducing GHG emissions in the U.S. by 50 to 52 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. It remains critical to keep the significant climate impact of the food system top of mind. The energy used to produce food and transport it to our plates is enormous. According to a United Nations study, one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity can be attributed to the way we produce, process and package food. And despite all the energy used to create this food, in the U.S. we throw away $43 million worth of it into landfills, where food waste emits greenhouse gases as it decomposes.

Since the earliest days of global food supply chains and industrial food manufacturing, food, food packaging and environmental impact have been intrinsically linked. At Closed Loop Partners, we invest in companies and business models that create innovative, waste-free solutions that prevent resource loss. When looking at the intersection of packaging and food, we believe that setting the course for a more sustainable path forward begins with three initial steps.

1. Consider the tradeoffs

Let’s revisit the cheese packaging options. The choices with bigger servings in their own rinds or in less packaging may seem more environmentally responsible overall, the rationale being the less packaging the better. And ideally the packaging used is widely recyclable or compostable. For households where all the cheese will be eaten within a certain time period, these options with little to no packaging might be the lowest waste option. But what if not all the cheese is eaten before it spoils? That’s food waste that could have been avoided if a smaller portion, albeit with a higher ratio of packaging to product, was chosen. Today, 31 percent of shoppers buy fresh produce in bulk to avoid unnecessary packaging. When aiming to reduce packaging waste, this is an effective tactic. But 53 percent of consumers have said that they waste more food when buying in bulk. According to the National Zero Waste Council, for many types of foods, “any GHG reductions achieved by not pre-packaging food are quickly outweighed by even a minor increase in food waste.”

57% of U.S. consumers want more resealable packages, and 50% want more variety in product sizes.

As eating and cooking habits change, more consumers today are looking for packaging that caters to storing food in their kitchens for longer, using small quantities at a time or buying smaller quantities at a time. Fifty-seven percent of U.S. consumers want more resealable packages, and 50 percent want more variety in product sizes. Particularly, they want to see baked goods, bagged salad, bread and meat available in smaller package sizes. How can we ensure that these preferences, which align with a reduction in food waste, can be met with more sustainable packaging options?

2. Invest in smarter packaging design

Innovation in packaging design can help reconcile the tradeoff between food waste and excess packaging. Smarter packaging works not only for the benefit of the food it contains, but also for the retailers and customers it serves. Emerging “active” and “intelligent” technologies help slow spoilage, giving information on food quality or safety, as well as enabling transparency across supply chains.

Where are we seeing progress? Closed Loop Partners invests in companies across the food and agriculture sector to strengthen every stage of the value chain — from farm to transport, retail, consumption, waste collection, food scrap and organics processing and back to the farm. We have invested in TradeLanes, a company that digitizes trade execution for container ships, increasing transparency in the global trade system to make the process faster, easier and more profitable. By better understanding where and when goods are in port versus in transit, we can ensure the right storage and create the optimal conditions for the transportation of food.

We’ve also invested in Mori, a company that has commercialized silk-based edible coatings that prevent food spoilage in transport and at retail and reduce the need for packaging. Its innovations — coatings applied directly to food, films to replace plastics — can be applied to whole or cut produce, prepared food, raw meat, seafood and processed foods. The edible coating is safe to eat, invisible, tasteless and virtually undetectable. Because it keeps food fresher for longer, less food goes to waste, which benefits the grower, farmer, shipper, processor, retailer, consumer and planet.

Improved package design and active and intelligent packaging also have a combined net annual financial benefit of $4.13 billion.

3. Collaborate to accelerate systemic change

To create system-wide change, stakeholders across the plastics and packaging and food and agriculture sectors and recovery systems need to be at the table together. We’ve seen the power of collaboration thanks to our work in the NextGen Consortium, launched by our Center for the Circular Economy to convene leading brands, industry experts and innovators to reimagine foodservice packaging and reduce waste. The Center’s new Compostable Packaging Consortium is deploying a similar pre-competitive, collaborative approach to identifying greater opportunities for the recovery of compostable packaging, in particular the role packaging can play in increasing food waste diversion from landfills.

In line with this work, we are partnering with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and its new initiative, Food Waste Repackaged. The initiative brings together experts and innovators to address the urgent challenge of food waste, exploring and advancing the role of packaging in addressing this waste in consumers’ homes, food service and retail and spurring new packaging innovations. Closed Loop Partners is proud to partner with SPC, together with GreenBiz, Packaging Europe, ReFED, RILA and Ubuntoo, on a Learning Series, Innovation Challenge and Mentorship Program to help tackle this problem.

When done thoughtfully and collaboratively, packaging reduction and design innovations present robust environmental, economic and social benefits. Preventing food waste is a top solution to climate change, and changes to packaging design could help prevent 650,000 tons of food waste a year in the U.S. Improved package design and active and intelligent packaging also have a combined net annual financial benefit of $4.13 billion. Catalyzing these solutions, and inviting dialogue across multiple stakeholders, brings us a step closer to building a more efficient, less wasteful food system.


Originally published in GreenBiz.