Closed Loop Partners Releases Key Insights from First-of-a-Kind Multi-Retailer Reusable Bag Pilots, with CVS Health, Target & Walmart

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September 13, 2022

New report from Closed Loop Partners shares insights to guide retailers on effective reusable bag models, a key solution as regulations to reduce reliance on single-use plastic bags grow across the U.S.

Read the full report

September 13, New York, NY – Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy and the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag released a new resource to help guide retailers looking to adopt reusable bag service models. The report, Beyond the Plastic Bag, shares key insights and analysis gathered from collaborative reusable bag pilots conducted in select CVS Health, Target and Walmart stores throughout Northern California in 2021, as part of the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag’s Beyond the Bag Pilots.

Approximately 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used each year in the U.S., most of which end up as waste in landfills and the environment. Reuse models play an important role in addressing single-use plastic packaging waste, alongside other complementary waste mitigation strategies. As retailers work to respond to the urgent challenge and address increasing plastic bag regulations across the U.S., the report provides key findings on what drives an optimal shopper experience and uptake of reuse models:

Customer-facing journey for reusable bag services

  • Effective storytelling is foundational for building awareness
  • Convenience is imperative when it comes to adoption and sign-up
  • Customers are looking for a clear and easy reason to help them reuse
  • Accessible drop-off points and quick confirmation of return help build trust in the reuse system

 

Behind the scenes action enabling reusable bag services

  • Partnering with the right stakeholders matters
  • Impact must be measured at every stage
  • Further scaling reuse systems will help catalyze efficiencies

 

“Successfully implementing reuse models on the ground, and accelerating their growth, takes unprecedented collaboration. Since 2018, the Center for the Circular Economy has been convening competitors to address complex material challenges and advance circular solutions, including reuse,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “This collaboration with the nation’s largest retailers to test and pilot reusable bag solutions across multiple stores is a critical step toward reducing single-use plastic bag waste. Iterative testing and data-driven decision-making of reuse systems can help avoid unintended consequences, like insufficient recapture of reusable packaging or the one-to-one replacement of single-use plastics with ‘reusables.’ We hope that this report on the Beyond the Bag initiative serves as inspiration for forward-thinking organizations looking to bring reuse to the next level. The learnings from our pilots can help guide us toward a future in which reusing valuable materials and products in our economy becomes the commonsense norm.”

The Center for the Circular Economy launched the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag in 2020, convening many of the world’s largest retailers to identify, test and implement innovative new design solutions that serve the function of today’s single-use plastic retail bag. The Consortium’s Innovation Partner, IDEO, worked closely with Closed Loop Partners and its retail partners in designing and running the reusable bag pilots in Northern California featured in the Beyond the Plastic Bag report. Findings from the Beyond the Bag Pilots build on and complement additional learnings from Closed Loop Partners’ NextGen Consortium that ran several reusable cup pilots in 2020, driving forward the Center’s work to rigorously test and hone reuse solutions to ensure that they achieve their intended impacts.

“Through partnerships with innovative startups, collaboration with other partners, and buy-in from our customers, the Beyond the Bag Pilots provided critical data-driven analysis on the role that reuse models could play in plastic waste mitigation when thoughtfully designed and their impact successfully measured,” said Sheryl Burke, Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for CVS Health. “We still have a lot to learn collectively, but we’re thrilled to continue our journey towards a more circular future for retail.”

“Bringing Target, Walmart, and CVS Health to the same table demonstrates the partnership needed across our industry to address the challenge of plastic waste and achieve measurable environmental benefits for all,” said Amanda Nusz, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Target and President of the Target Foundation. “We’re grateful for the insights these pilots have provided, and we’re applying what we learned to identify bag options that are best for our guests, propelling more circular systems throughout retail.”

“The Beyond the Bag Pilots fostered an unprecedented platform for connectivity between trailblazing reuse start-ups, customers, Walmart, and other retailers in the industry,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer for Walmart. “The pilots created the space for collective experimentation, and provided data-driven insights on the ease, convenience, and perceived benefits of the models tested. This kind of on-the-ground diligence from pilots is critical to inform what could be next for reuse and where it could fit in a circular economy.”

Over the next year, the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag will continue to conduct extensive research and in-market testing of designs and innovative bag solutions that can reduce single-use plastic bag waste. These aim to inform the viability of solutions in different contexts, as well as the full potential of solutions to more sustainably, accessibly and effectively get goods home.

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm comprised of venture capital, growth equity, private equity and catalytic capital, as well as an innovation center. In 2018, Closed Loop Partners launched its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, which unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create, invest in and support scalable innovations that target big systems problems. In 2022, the Center launched a Reuse Insights Lab to advance the firm’s testing, piloting and investing in reusable packaging models. The Reuse Insights Lab conducts qualitative and quantitative research and data analytics through in-market testing, focus groups and customer interviews, to identify how to design and build the architecture for a reuse system that brings the circular economy to the forefront in our everyday life. 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, The TJX Companies, Inc. as Apparel & Home Goods Sector Lead Partner, and Ulta Beauty as Beauty Sector Lead Partner. Ahold Delhaize USA Brands, 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. IDEO is the Consortium’s Innovation Partner. Learn more about the Consortium here.

From 480 Innovative Submissions to 12 Sustainable Solutions: Where are the NextGen Cup Challenge Winners Now?

By Bea Miñana

April 13, 2022

Four key drivers have accelerated sustainable packaging innovation in the last 3 years 

In 2018, the NextGen Consortium launched its first initiative, the NextGen Cup Challenge––a global design competition seeking to identify and commercialize existing and future solutions for the single-use, hot and cold fiber cup system. Students, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, designers and businesses were invited to submit their ideas for the cup of the future. After a rigorous four-month review process, the Challenge narrowed nearly 500 submissions from over 50 countries down to 12 winners. 

These 12 winning solutions––broadly categorized into innovative cup liners, new materials and reusable cup service models––were chosen for their potential to help turn the 250 billion fiber to-go cups used annually from waste into valuable materials that can be reused and recovered. 

Today, many of these innovations continue to disrupt the status quo of the single-use cup, a seemingly convenient product that has come with a steep price over the years: cups ending up in landfills, creating greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. As companies look for ways to shift their business practices away from a wasteful take-make-waste system, there are tremendous opportunities for new solutions. The next wave of cup design is more innovative than ever, with new materials that can reduce environmental impact, and new systems that can keep valuable materials in play for longer.  

Over the last three years, we’ve seen the pandemic alter consumer preferences, more corporations commit to sustainability goals, and policy transform the landscape for circular packaging solutions, including reuse models. Amidst all these changes, NextGen Cup Challenge winners are paving a path forward in line with four key trends:  

1. New materials are increasingly competitive as an alternative to single-use plastic 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner, Footprint, continues to expand in its mission to replace single-use plastics with plant-based fiber at major food companies, retailers and consumer packaged goods companies, across categories including shelf-stable cups, meat trays and dairy. The company’s plant-based plates, bowls and other food-service items are in concession stands at Footprint Center, home of the winning NBA and WNBA teams, Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury. This long-term naming-rights partnership between Footprint and the Suns management group puts a spotlight on sustainability, fan education and reducing the environmental impact of sports and entertainment events. In December 2021, Footprint announced a SPAC merger with Gores Holdings VIII, and is accelerating growth in key verticals like supermarkets, stadiums, and geographically in Europe, opening an R&D center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, and expanding production in Poland with new factories coming online in the coming year. 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner, MM Kotkamills Boards, is developing new materials for a range of packaging types, including and beyond the cup. The company’s Oy’s ISLA® Duo material for hot beverages offers an alternative to polyethylene (PE) extrusion-based cups. The product is now in regular production and sold worldwide. MM Kotkamills has also widened their family of sustainable barrier board products with their new ISLA® Ice and Cream board solution for selling ice cream in retail stores and over the counter. Their new generation fiber solution-based ISLA® Duo is widely used in the event industry. The fiber-based cups are collected and recycled, with the cups’ wood fibers reused in the production of other fiber-based sustainable solutions, such as tissue paper or corrugated board. 

Colombier has widened their product range since winning the NextGen Cup Challenge. Their EcoBarrier Flex™, a pure paper solution with an innovative barrier, acts like plastic to preserve food products, prolonging shelf-life. EcoBarrier Flex was designed as primary packaging for cookies, potato chips, candy, food bars, powders and other food products, and is now piloting with major food brands. 

2. Reuse is going mainstream 

Significant changes have happened in its home country of Germany since RECUP was announced as one of the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge. A law was passed that obliges catering establishments to offer a reusable alternative for to-go food packaging, advancing more widespread use of reusable systems. This important milestone supports the continued growth of RECUP, especially as they launch REBOWL, their new reusable alternative for take-away food. Since the NextGen Cup Challenge, RECUP has received several honors for their reusable packaging, including the “Blauer Engel”, the “European Reusable Award” and the Bavarian Environmental Medal. In 2020, RECUP partnered with McDonald’s in Germany on a reusable cup system. 

3. Strategic partnerships are expanding the reach of innovative solutions 

 

Since winning the NextGen Cup Challenge, Muuse has grown its network around the world. In 2019, the company expanded their track and trace reuse service in Hong Kong and partnered with Swire Properties to reduce waste within Taikoo Place. In 2021, they expanded their reuse service in Toronto, Canada. And in early 2022, they launched a partnership with Starbucks, enabling reuse at Starbucks stores at the National University of Singapore. They have also been working with GrabFood and food panda in Singapore to provide reusables for food delivery. Overall, they have been able to save 70,000+ single-use items from entering the waste stream, working with over 100 partners. In 2021, the team lost their founder, Brian Reilly, who is greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues. The Muuse team is extremely honored to continue out his legacy and push forward his vision for reuse. 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner WestRock recently joined forces with Tim Hortons as a brand partner for their pilot cup, which is expected to launch soon at select Vancouver restaurants. In addition to innovating a recyclable cup, the company continues to explore recyclable barrier technologies designed for the specific needs of other food packaging, including ice cream pints, lined water cups and yogurt cups. 

 

NextGen Cup Challenge winner PTT MCC was selected as one of the market testing solutions for compostable and recyclable paper cups by Starbucks in select stores in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and London. Many other brands have engaged the company to develop more sustainable paper cups solution using BioPBS, the company’s bio-based material for packaging. 

4.Capital is accelerating the growth of solutions  

Earlier this year, NextGen Cup Challenge winner SoluBlue won the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge, a global sustainability award and one of the largest annual competitions in the field of sustainable entrepreneurship. Their seaweed-based polymer technology that helps extend the shelf-life of food, reducing both plastic waste and food waste, was selected from more than 650 startups competing from across Europe. The award of €500,000 in prize money will be used by SoluBlue to help scale up their technology for pilot production among retailers.  

 

Since winning the NextGen Cup Challenge, CLUBZERØ has gained even more market interest, with more than 380 investors committed to helping their fight for zero waste. Since the launch of their public crowdfunding campaign, CLUBZERØ has to date achieved over 120% of its goal. In September 2021, CLUBZERØ launched their reusable packaging to tackle plastic pollution across the takeaway sector in London, subsequently announcing partnerships with Just Eat, King’s Cross, ReLondon, Camden Council and First Mile. Having completed over 50,000 orders in Q4 2021, CLUBZERØ welcomed new U.S investors including Chris Vance (ex-Tesla + Impossible Foods) and partnered with Nestlé (Nescafé) to provide reusable packaging. 

Where do we go from here?  

The tremendous gains of these companies show that the road to circular foodservice packaging is being built quickly. Through its grant funding, business acceleration, testing and curated in-market pilots, the NextGen Consortium continues to strengthen the ecosystem of companies, innovators, investors, policymakers and consumers paving the way forward. This is just the beginning of our collective journey, and we are excited for a future in which circular packaging is the standard rather than the exception. 

Starbucks and McDonald’s Deploy Additional $10 Million with NextGen Consortium to Accelerate the Circularity of Foodservice Packaging & Address Urgent Waste Challenge

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October 20, 2021

The Consortium expands its work to advance reusable packaging systems, strengthen recycling and composting infrastructure and scale foodservice packaging innovation

NEW YORK, Oct. 20, 2021 — Today, Closed Loop Partners announced an additional $10 million commitment from the NextGen Consortium‘s Founding Partners, Starbucks and McDonald’s, to continue the Consortium’s work: identifying, accelerating and scaling commercially viable, circular foodservice packaging solutions. The Coca-Cola Company increased its commitment to now participate as a Sector Lead Partner, paving the way for sustainable packaging solutions for its broad customer base. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands will continue their participation as Supporting Partners in the Consortium, and the Consortium continues to invite other brands to join the effort.

Since 2018, the NextGen Consortium has made significant headway in advancing sustainable packaging innovation and recycling infrastructure to help end foodservice packaging waste, with an initial focus on redesigning the single-use hot and cold fiber cup. The Consortium’s NextGen Cup Challenge sourced 480 solutions globally to redesign the cup, selecting 12 winning solutions across three areas: innovative cup & cup liners, new materials, and reusable cup service models. Following the Challenge, the Consortium has continued to advance the development of innovative cup and cup liner innovations, and the Consortium’s Circular Business Accelerator supported six early-stage teams to help test and refine their solutions.

In 2019 and 2020, Accelerator teams executed on-the-ground tests at a large tech company’s campus with four solutions, including two reusable systems, moving to the pilot phase across 14 local, independent cafes in the San Francisco Bay area. These solutions received valuable feedback from customers, restaurants and other key stakeholders. Drawing on insights from those pilots, the Consortium released a first-of-its-kind report, Bringing Reusable Packaging Systems to Life, sharing a blueprint and open-source resource to encourage collaboration and the growth of reuse models. The Consortium also continued its work across the broader foodservice packaging value chain, conducting dozens of lab- and commercial-scale tests with recyclers, material test labs and paper mills to evaluate the performance, recyclability and recoverability of the fiber cup solutions. As part of this work, the Consortium collaborates with paper mills, recycling facilities and municipalities to expand recycling access and recovery of fiber cups as well as NextGen cups.

“Through NextGen, we’ve made great progress in growing more sustainable packaging solutions, and there is a lot more work to be done. Faced with increasing climate risks, eco-conscious customers and a resource-constrained world, the foodservice industry must double down on its efforts and band together to strategically tackle the mounting waste challenge,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Starbucks, McDonald’s and other partners in the Consortium make clear their commitment to collaboratively accelerate more circular foodservice packaging solutions, and we encourage stakeholders––from packaging manufacturers to recyclers to designers––to join us in advancing NextGen solutions.” 

With the additional $10 million in funding, the Consortium will expand its efforts, including and beyond the fiber cup, to strengthen the sustainable packaging ecosystem. The Consortium will deepen its customer research and testing of reusable packaging systems, explore the circularity of additional packaging materials such as polypropylene (PP), and accelerate the development of more widely recyclable and compostable fiber-based packaging solutions, as well as the infrastructure pathways needed for their recovery. The Consortium’s increased focus on PP is driven by the growing demand for recycled PP in foodservice packaging, and the need to optimize recycling infrastructure to capture the material. With its additional focus on polypropylene, in 2020, the Consortium joined The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition as a Steering Committee member, collaborating to allocate millions of dollars in grants to recycling facilities to improve polypropylene recycling.

“Starbucks’ work with the NextGen Consortium has been an important part of our ongoing efforts to reduce single use cup waste, part of our larger goal to reduce waste sent to landfills by 50% by 2030,” said Michael Kobori, Chief Sustainability Officer at Starbucks. “There has never been a more critical time for industry collaboration to shift away from single-use packaging, promote reusability, and champion recyclability. We are thrilled to continue our work with the NextGen Consortium to drive sustainable solutions for our planet.”

“Over the last three years, the NextGen Consortium has demonstrated that working together as an industry helps accelerate sustainable change, and is paving a clear pathway forward for the industry to scale packaging solutions that can benefit the planet and the communities we serve,” said Marion Gross, Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer at McDonald’s North America. “Knowing that industry-wide collaboration is essential to creating lasting, scalable impact, we invite others to join us in this important work to advance solutions and eliminate packaging waste.”

Individual waste mitigation efforts by Founding Partners Starbucks and McDonald’s further bolster the Consortium’s work to accelerate sustainable packaging innovation, foster more robust recovery opportunities for packaging, and develop, enhance and optimize emerging reuse models. Starbucks continues to innovate to encourage the use of personal reusable cups in stores, most recently in partnership with Ocean Conservancy, and will continue to test and learn from programs geared toward reducing single-use cups around the world. McDonald’s has also made strides toward reuse, partnering with TerraCycle’s Loop platform to pilot reusable cups in the brand’s UK stores, and continues to make tremendous progress in ensuring its packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sources.

“Getting to a circular economy will require every community, organization and industry to be involved in making it a reality. The food & beverage industry touches all people, and so the need for more sustainable packaging for our customers is a top priority,” said Alpa Sutaria, General Manager, Sustainability, North America Operating Unit, The Coca-Cola Company. “We are proud not only to continue our work with the NextGen Consortium, but to increase our commitment, now as a Sector Lead Partner. We invite others to join us in this effort to strengthen and scale circular solutions for packaging.”

“With approximately 11 million metric tons of plastic waste ending up in our oceans every year, we need to bring circular packaging solutions to the table. We know that to tackle this massive, shared challenge, all stakeholders have to be involved,” said Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste + Business at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF is an environmental advisory partner for the Consortium. “The NextGen Consortium can play an important role in catalyzing the collaboration we need by enabling cross-sector partnerships and open-source insight sharing, and we are proud to be a partner in this important work.”

Moving forward, even greater collaboration among businesses, industry groups, nonprofits and others will be needed to solve systemic waste challenges. Through the expanded commitment of the NextGen Consortium, the multi-year collaboration will continue to work across the value chain––with global brands, municipalities, NGOs, recyclers and manufacturers––to advance viable market solutions that scale throughout the supply chain and bring value to recovery systems.

About the NextGen Consortium

The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use food packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization, and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are the founding partners of the Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company joining as a sector lead partner. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the environmental advisory partner. Learn more at www.nextgenconsortium.com.

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm comprised of venture capital, growth equity, private equity, project-based finance and an innovation center. In 2018, Closed Loop Partners launched its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, which unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create, invest in, and support scalable innovations that target big system problems. Learn more about the Center’s work here.

The Comeback of Reuse, and the Path Forward

By Georgia Sherwin, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Communications

June 16, 2021

Many feared that the COVID-19 pandemic would push climate and sustainability priorities to the backburner, but the opposite proved true. Setbacks on the use of reusable bags and cups were only temporary as the world adjusted, and overall we witnessed an increase in popularity of reusable packaging solutions that alleviate the waste associated with single-use packaging. Consumer demand, behavior changes brought on by the pandemic, regulatory shifts, technological developments, the strong business case for resource efficiency and the need to protect our environment are all driving the growth of modern reuse models. As cities, towns and states across the U.S. start to reopen, and with Starbucks’ recent announcement that personal reusable cups will be accepted once more (on June 22), it’s critical that we examine the potential of these models, why they’re growing and how to remove any potential roadblocks in their pathway to scale

First, the basics: What do reuse models look like?  

Think back to the milkman model and then add a few more bells and whistles; you’ll land at today’s optimized refill and reuse models. From personal care products to beverages, refilling reusable containers is becoming more popular. There is no one size fits all when it comes to reuse. Some models are tech-enabled, which helps companies track, discount and incentivize reusable and refillable packaging, while gaining customer insights. Other models have completely closed loop systems, with collection, washing and disinfecting stations embedded in the dispensing machines to sanitize and return packaging onsite. And finally, the simpler models of previous decades hinge on “bringing your own” packaging to collect your products. 

Why are reuse models growing so quickly in 2021? What are the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on reuse?

Heightened visibility of single-use plastic waste during the pandemic has further galvanized consumers and brands

As lockdowns were implemented across the U.S., many of us turned to food delivery. Amid a global health crisis, these services were a lifeline. But after relying on them day in and day out, the resulting pile of single-use plastic containers, cutlery or sachets mounting in the trash has become too much to ignore. Headlines across the globe extol these concerns, noting that COVID-19 has “supercharged” the world’s takeout habit and left a big mess, or that plastic waste has surged as restaurants use more disposable packaging. The same trend was seen with single-use masks, which now litter streets across the globe. With this heightened visibility of waste, more consumers are now clamoring for alternatives to single-use. 

Meanwhile, brands are doubling down on their sustainability efforts, including the implementation of reuse models. To name just a few examples of businesses prioritizing circularity amid the pandemic, in 2020 Closed Loop Partners convened 13 leading retailers representing more than 50,000 stores in the U.S. to reinvent the retail bag as part of our Beyond the Bag Initiative. This year, the initiative announced multiple winning reusable bag solutions that will be piloted over the coming months. Our portfolio company, Algramo, expanded to the U.S. in 2020, working with brand partners like Clorox and Colgate-Palmolive to offer refill services for household cleaning products in reusable packaging. Similarly, early in 2021, Burger King in the U.S. and Japan and Tim Hortons in Canada piloted reusable, container programs through Loop, a circular packaging platform. Just Salad also announced its plans to expand its popular reusable bowl program for digital orders.  

Increased digital literacy amidst the pandemic has helped better prepare us for the reuse revolution 

At the beginning of 2020, the concept of scanning a QR code to see the menu at a restaurant was likely alien, and laborious, at best. Yet today, ordering food at any restaurant often now involves scanning a QR code to see the menu. COVID-19 has fundamentally accelerated the digitization of our daily lives, as businesses and stakeholders across the globe experiment with increasingly “contact-less” or “automated” processes. The resulting uptick in e-commerce, and subsequent familiarity with a host of digital applications, including mobile wallets and tap-and-go payment systems, have helped to change habits and increase our collective digital literacy. 

This progress has laid the groundwork and opened many possibilities for the future of reuse models. Reusable packaging today often harnesses state-of-the-art technology to build smart systems that provide transparency to the user and useful analytics to the producer––bringing value to both retailers and customers. QR codes or radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags enable stakeholders to check a reusable product, for example a cup or bag, in and out along its lifespan, increasing visibility and in doing so creating opportunities for incentives for customers to return their packaging. The more familiar we become with QR codes or RFID, the smoother and easier the transition to reuse models will be.

Growing regulatory pressures in the U.S., including single-use plastic bans, are accelerating momentum for reuse  

The landscape of U.S. policies around materials management is changing rapidly in response to the urgency of the plastic waste challenge. The recent Break Free from Plastics Act 2021 not only lays the foundation for extended producer responsibility in the U.S., but also incentivizes businesses to create reusable products that can remain in circulation for multiple uses, moving away from single-use. These shifts in federal legislation are further bolstered by single-use plastic bans across multiple U.S. states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont. Most recently, Washington state fast-tracked its plastics phase-out, with goals to ban single-use bowls, cups, plates, cutlery, straws, polystyrene food containers, thick plastic bags and helium balloon releases by the end of 2021, four years earlier than its initial 2025 target. As these regulatory shifts continue to gain traction, it will be critical to move toward a more collaborative and holistic approach across states to create a consistent regulatory environment, as businesses adapt their operations to integrate reuse models and other circular solutions. Right now regulations vary per place, and businesses must adapt accordingly. A more holistic approach could help align interests and accelerate consistent educational messaging to advance circularity. 

The odds seem in the favor of reuse right now, but what’s the catch? What do we need to watch out for? 

Reuse models must prioritize accessibility and convenience, or swathes of the population will be left behind 

As the “hippies” of the 1970s championed the protection of the earth and the promotion of sustainable practices like “reuse,” so have today’s affluent “yuppies” taken up the cause. As a result, sustainable products are now most often associated with a hefty price tag. But to move from serving a niche sliver of the population to the mainstream, reuse models need to work for everyone. They can’t be limited to high earners, nor can the ushering in of “smart,” tech-enabled reuse systems forget that not everyone has a smartphone or credit card.  Reuse models will be most successful when the needs of multiple stakeholders are integrated, to build widespread acceptance and accelerate uptake. We will need a multitude of innovations to fit different contexts—geographic, economic & social. 

Algramo is one company that is making reuse more affordable. The company’s system not only reduces single-use packaging waste through the use of reusable containers, but it also allows families to buy what they can afford. Through Algramo’s vending machines, customers can choose to purchase the exact quantity of cleaning product they need in bulk pricing, no matter how small the amount. 

Thorough analysis of the environmental impact of reuse models is necessary to evaluate any potential tradeoffs 

To be the most appropriate fit for a product or packaging, reuse models must have a net positive environmental impact. Last year, our NextGen Consortium––a convening of leading foodservice brands, including Starbucks and McDonald’s––piloted several reusable cup systems designed to reimagine a more sustainable beverage experience. These pilots demonstrated the need for stakeholders to consider two core principles for product design: 1) build to last and 2) build to be recovered. And yet, all materials used for packaging, even within reuse models, have an environmental footprint. To choose the least impactful material, its entire lifecycle must be taken into account. There are the upstream environmental costs to consider––for example, how energy intensive it is to extract the material––as well as the downstream costs of recovering materials after use. The number of times reusable packaging is used also ties directly to its environmental impact, as does its end-of-life pathway. For example, glass might be aesthetically appealing for customers, but it is heavy––making it more costly and emissions-intensive to transport––and is more difficult to recover.  Faced with this choice, reusable plastic options could be the more lightweight and recyclable option. 

While there are no simple answers, there are many possibilities. The pandemic has urged us to rebuild the status quo, and the runway for reuse models is being cleared. As we move forward, evaluating each reusable product or packaging application in its full context––with its entire life cycle and its operating market in mind––can help ensure that the reuse models of the future are economically sound, environmentally responsible, and accessible to and inclusive of all communities. As the conditions grow more optimal for the rise of reuse, we look forward to continuing the work needed to scale these models to their full potential, including building partnerships with brands to accelerate uptake.   


Closed Loop Partners invests in cutting-edge reuse and refill models through its investment funds, while also testing, piloting and scaling new reusable packaging solutions through its Center for the Circular Economy. In partnership with Upstream, Closed Loop Partners has also helped to launch the first national reuse awards in the U.S. — The Reusies. This inaugural event celebrates the pioneers, the trailblazers, the innovators and game-changing heroes who are working and advancing systemic change and solutions to create a world where we can get what we want and need without all the waste. Nominate companies and individuals here

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.

What Tomorrow’s Retail Bag Looks Like

By Kate Daly

February 16, 2021

Hint: It’s not a single-use plastic bag.

12 minutes. That’s how long it typically takes from the moment we receive a single-use plastic bag to the moment we discard it. And those 12 short minutes barely register within the much longer life cycle of the plastic bag. The story of the plastic bag starts with extracting finite fossil fuels––like natural gas ––and usually ends in landfills, or worse, in our oceans, where they take decades to break down. It’s time that we identify a better, more resilient way forward for retail––one that maximizes valuable resources and benefits the customer, the retailer and the planet.

Every year, 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used annually in the U.S., and fewer than 10% of those are recycled. Plastic bags continue to be one of the top ten most littered items on our beaches, contributing to a mounting global waste crisis. And now, the urgency of these environmental challenges are coming head-to-head with a rapidly changing retail landscape, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home mandates from many governments and work-from-home policies from many companies are driving the growth of e-commerce and digitization as consumer habits shifted almost overnight. This shake-up in retail norms presents the ideal moment for reinventing the single-use plastic bag through new business models and design innovation. If there was ever a time to rethink the status quo of our retail system, it is now. 

The plastic bag plays a pivotal role in the retail experience; whether you’re buying groceries, ordering a shirt for delivery or picking up a prescription. It’s an extension of the store beyond its premises, and a convenience to the consumer, as we carry our goods home, pick them up from the curb or receive them at our doorsteps. To address the challenges of this shared experience around the plastic bag, we need a whole suite of  solutions that can fit the varied retail contexts and customer needs across different geographic, social and economic environments.  

This week, our Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag’s global innovation challenge, the Beyond the Bag Challenge, identified nine winning solutions that show the breadth and real-world promise of solutions that already exist to help reinvent retail and the plastic bag . Each brings a unique contribution to creating a new way to get our goods home, and together they can help pave the way forward, capitalizing on current market trends and shifting consumer habits in order to advance larger, industry-wide sustainable change. 

 

Tracking the bag throughout its life

New digital technologies make it possible for customers and retailers to see well past the 12 minutes that elapse between the current checkout counter to disposal of today’s single-use plastic bag. They provide a clearer, more holistic picture of the lifespan of the bag, and with it, elevate the transparency of entire supply chains.

EON uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to help retailers track inventory, manage reverse logistics and understand how bags are used by monitoring impact data throughout the bag’s value chain, and extending lines of sight into their full lifecycle.

SmartC, a solution co-created by 99Bridges and Envision Charlotte, leverages IoT technologies to connect reusable bags, enabled by smart tags, at participating retail stores, allowing retailers to reward customers with points, coupons or discounts every time they reuse their shopping bags. 

And what about all the existing reusable bags sitting in our closets? Fill it Forward created a tag that connects our bags to a mobile app where users track their environmental impact, help give back to charitable projects, and offer rewards that encourage reuse—significantly extending a bag’s lifetime.


Meeting customer needs

Amidst a changing retail environment, these innovations recognize that habits are difficult to break, and to address this challenge, they have innovated around our lifestyles. Their Reuse models offer durable alternatives to the current retail bag, improving on the user experience not only from a performance standpoint, but from an environmental perspective too.  

GOATOTE offers a kiosk system that provides us easy access to clean reusable bags, solving for those moments you do not have a reusable bag, but don’t want the trade-off of a single-use alternative offered at the store.

ChicoBag aims to have lightweight, compact, reusable bags readily available for a variety of customer interaction points––delivery, curb-side pick-up or in-store.

For those who shop online or use pick-up services, Returnity designs and manufactures reusable shipping bags and boxes for products already on the market, and provides the e-commerce and delivery packaging system that powers how these bags and boxes are used. 


Aligning with existing retail operations 

Some emerging innovators are focusing on material science innovations that result in bags that are indistinguishable from today’s plastic bag to a customer or retailer at checkout, but are sourced from renewable materials and follow different paths at end of use.  

To replace traditional thin film plastics, Sway offers a seaweed-derived material that is bio-based and has the potential to be carbon-negative at scale. Their replacement matches the strength and performance of traditional plastic bags.

PlasticFri, on the other hand, sources starch from agricultural waste, creating a bio-based, compostable bag.

As an  upgrade to traditional paper bags, Domtar is developing a new bio-based, recyclable material of 100% cellulose fiber that  is stretchable and stronger, able to stand up to multiple uses. When considering which type of materials to introduce to a location, it is equally important to assess the availability of local curbside organics collection and anaerobic digestion and composting facilities, to ensure that these bags can be processed at end-of-life. 

Today, the outsized impact of plastic bag waste demands innovative solutions. However, as companies work toward zero-waste goals, the packaging of items that go inside the bag is also an important consideration. In recognition of this, we are giving special recognition to two Beyond the Bag Challenge submissions as Circular Trailblazers. These companies are advancing refillable and reusable packaging systems for products across retail, from food to cleaning supplies, broadening the horizon for the waste-free future of retail. Algramo, a start-up based in Chile and now piloting in New York, has created a mobile dispensing system for personal care and cleaning products that allows shoppers to skip packaging all together. Loop, developed by TerraCycle, creates reusable and recyclable packaging alternatives for some well-known household products, eliminating the need for single-use packaging when customers visit a store, or deliver these items to their homes.  

There is no one replacement for the current single-use bag––the solution lies in a combination of approaches that can fit into diverse retail markets.  And it’s critical to test these solutions. The nine winners of the Beyond the Bag Challenge––Chicobag, Domtar, EON, Fill it Forward, GOATOTE, PlasticFri, Returnity, SmartC and Sway––need further investment, refining and piloting to help set them up for success, with support from the retail partners who came together to create the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag. We look forward to the exciting work ahead to assess how these solutions can align with customer needs, the growing demand for circular solutions, and the changing face  of retail. 

Closed Loop Partners Publishes First-of-Its-Kind Report to Navigate Plastic Alternatives in a Circular Economy

By

December 15, 2020

The report provides a guiding framework for innovators, brands and investors and calls for more research and rigorous testing to avoid unintended consequences

Read the full report

Dec 15 – Today, Closed Loop Partners released a report dispelling myths and demystifying the rapidly growing landscape of plastic alternatives, with a focus on bio-based plastics, biopolymers and compostable products and packaging. The report unpacks the opportunities and challenges within the industry’s move toward these alternative materials, considering sustainable sourcing of feedstocks and end-of-life recovery pathways that recapture their material value after use.

Currently, only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled globally, while 11 million metric tons of plastic waste enters our oceans every year––costing people, the planet and business*. In response, consumers and regulators are increasingly pushing companies to align their products and packaging with waste reduction and climate impact goals. This pressure has led to companies making ambitious public commitments for implementing plastic-free products, eliminating non-recyclable formats and increasing the recycled content in their packaging. This, in turn, has spurred a rapid and, at times, haphazard shift away from petroleum-based, single-use plastics that are bound for landfill. 

As companies deploy strategies to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics in their products and packaging, many are exploring bio-based plastics, biopolymers and compostable alternatives such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) and polylactic acid (PLA). If formulated in accordance with certification standards and captured properly after use, compostable packaging can contribute to net positive climate impacts by contributing to carbon sequestering, nutrient-rich compost and help increase diversion of food scraps from landfills. The promise of compostable packaging is resulting in rapid growth: the market for biopolymers and bio-based plastics is expected to reach nearly $27.9 billion by 2025, up from $10.5 billion in 2020, with over 2.8 million metric tons expected to be produced in 2025, up from 2.1 million metric tons in 2020**. 

However, compostable alternatives are not a silver bullet, and as they begin to enter the market at higher volumes, there is not enough recovery infrastructure to recapture their full value efficiently. Only about 185 full-scale commercial composting facilities in the United States accept food waste, and even fewer accept compostable-certified packaging. With new materials already outpacing the capacity of our existing recovery infrastructure, there is a critical need to address the misalignment between production and end-of-life to ensure even higher volumes of compostable packaging don’t end up in landfill in the future. Ultimately, biopolymers and compostable alternatives must sit within the broader context of a number of plastic waste mitigation strategies; they play a very specific role as one line of defense against waste––after reduction and reuse ––and should only be deployed in certain formats and contexts to drive value to organics processors. 

“This report does not seek to define one material as environmentally superior to another, but instead, dispels some myths around this growing sector of compostable packaging, laying the groundwork for informed decisions on when reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging might be most appropriate,” says Kate Daly, Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “We continue to research, explore, and test, and invite you to join us on our collective journey toward a circular economy that eliminates waste and builds sustainable, inclusive systems for all.”

Closed Loop Partners applies a holistic circular economy framework to the assessment of these new materials, based on the firm’s unique expertise garnered from their ecosystem of funds. Closed Loop Partners’ investment platform spans venture capital to private equity, and the Center for the Circular Economy specializes in convening brands and stakeholders to solve shared material challenges. 

* UN Environment. Beat Plastic PollutionBreaking the Plastic Wave: Top Findings for Preventing Plastic Pollution 

** Bioplastics & Biopolymers MarketMarket update 2020: Bioplastics continue to become mainstream as the global bioplastics market is set to grow by 36 percent over the next 5 years

About Closed Loop Partners

Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm comprised of venture capital, growth equity, private equity and project finance, as well as an innovation center focused on building the circular economy. The firm has built an ecosystem that connects entrepreneurs, industry experts, global consumer goods and technology companies, retailers, foundations, financial institutions and municipalities. Their investments align capitalism with positive social and environmental impact by reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions via materials innovation, advanced recycling technologies, supply chain optimization and diversion of materials from landfills. Learn more at www.closedlooppartners.com.

 

Going Beyond Single-Use Packaging to Address All Plastic Waste

By Paula Luu

November 13, 2020

At Closed Loop Partners, we recognize the need to deploy multiple strategies to build a system that addresses all kinds of plastics. In a world of interdependent, global supply chains, plastic waste is the responsibility of every industry and country around the world. While activism and industry action primarily focuses on single-use plastic packaging, have we been myopic in our framing of the problem?

We are overlooking the equally visible plastics that are just as challenging to recover and reuse: the plastics that make up half the volume of every car; the plastics that make up 20 percent of the 55 million tons of electronic waste sent to landfill annually; the polyester (plastic) that represents 60 percent of all apparel fibers; and 42 percent of all non-fiber plastics which go to packaging. While we’ve developed recovery systems for some plastic packaging, we’ve failed to see the challenge holistically, in ways that address diverse forms of plastics in our system. Meanwhile, they have been steadily mounting in landfills, with limited to no end-of-life solutions.

The reality is that we need to solve for and build systems to prevent, reduce, reuse or recycle all plastic waste, not just packaging. Across industries and sectors, we must deploy all tools available to build a circular system for plastics. These include: harnessing design innovation to eliminate unnecessary plastic and reduce extraction of fossil fuels; scaling reuse systems and rental and resale platforms; investing in mechanical recycling and designing products that align with that system; and investing in advanced recycling technologies that can safely transform hard-to-recycle plastic waste into valuable new products or into building blocks to make new plastic or packaging.

Focusing on a single strategy to the plastic waste challenge compounds risks.

While solutions such as reuse and rental systems are critical to extending the life of a product, they are not necessarily plastic-free systems. Companies such as Rent the Runway allow users to subscribe to a library of clothing, allowing thousands of garments to be shared by 8 million customers. Even so, after dozens or even hundreds of uses, a clothing item likely will need to be retired, but currently no widely available, commercial recycling solutions exist to capture that textile waste. Even the most innovative companies leveraging reuse models for cups, food delivery or personal care packaging include some plastics or other valuable materials in their packaging or services that after many uses will need recycling. These solutions are a small part of supply chains today, but we believe they have a strong opportunity for growth. And as they continue to grow, it is important to think ahead about solutions for the ends-of-life of materials in these systems, to keep them in circulation.

If we consider mechanical recycling, plastics that undergo this process can run through it only about seven times before becoming too degraded, and mechanical technologies cannot process most of the 16.9 million tons of textile waste Americans send to landfill every year.

The current strategies to address plastic waste are complementary, but taken alone they will be ineffective at producing a circular system for plastics. Without a multi-pronged approach, we will continue to see growing stockpiles of plastic waste in all forms, from various industries. We are at a critical moment of consensus. Across industries and sectors, stakeholders agree that we want and need reduction in plastic and better management of the plastics being produced. Enabling these outcomes will require policy shifts, incentives, investment, education and long-term partnerships. And we will need to experiment with and invest in emerging and nascent solutions that can safely solve for difficult material types.

Advanced recycling technologies can contribute one piece to the puzzle, solving for our hardest-to-recycle plastic-based products, such as healthcare-related plastics, multi-layer packaging, apparel and building materials.

Like the plastic waste problem, there is a tendency to oversimplify advanced recycling. It is not a monolith; rather, it is a sector marked by distinct and diverse technology processes that purify or break down plastic to create virgin-quality outputs through a number of biological, thermal and/or catalytic processes including dissolution, glycolysis, pyrolysis and gasification. Closed Loop Partners has categorized these processes into three buckets: purification; decomposition; and conversion. Some technologies, such as pyrolysis, have been around for decades. Others are new and developing; all are improving and not all will be winners. Like anything, it is a growing and competitive landscape and those that are the most cost-effective with the most positive environmental impact likely will advance quickly.

Two very different stories emerged this week around advanced recycling technologies. Purecycle, a purification company, just closed a $250 million bond for its Ohio facility, after successfully proving its technology at scale by processing discarded carpet into clear, high-quality polypropylene. Meanwhile, another advanced recycling technology company, LOOP Industries, was put under the spotlight by a research firm for failing to meet expectations. The stories around Purecycle and LOOP Industries show the importance of deep due diligence and the need for continuous testing and honing of solutions to de-risk them before scaling. We’re continuing to evaluate purification, decomposition and conversion technology processes, their environmental and human health impacts, supply chain economics and policy landscape. The technology processes themselves do not determine whether a company or a process is “circular.” The stakeholders invested in creating circular systems do.

While we’ve developed recovery systems for some plastic packaging, we’ve failed to see the challenge holistically, in ways that address diverse forms of plastics in our system.

Historically, market incentives and policies have not favored circular outcomes from advanced recycling processes. In the United States, manufacturers are not rewarded for using recycled plastic, nor are they penalized for using virgin sources. This has meant that manufacturers have favored the lowest priced commodity on the market, often virgin plastics, and the economics for advanced recycling have bent towards supplying industry with fuel produced from plastics. However, mandates that require recycled content, brand commitments to use post-consumer recycled content for their products and packaging, and landfill bans are becoming more prevalent across diverse markets, increasing the demand for high-quality recycled plastic.

The biggest economic and environmental opportunity in advanced recycling is to build circular supply chains for plastics, meaning plastic-to-plastic loops, which ensure that we keep materials at their highest value within our economy for as long as possible. We can align the advanced recycling market towards circular principles by creating market incentives and supportive policies that recognize these technology processes as recycling when their outputs are directly looped back into plastic supply chains.

Are there unknowns related to these new technologies or processes? Yes. It’s critical that we gain a better collective understanding of the environmental and human health impacts of these recycling processes. We must understand what conditions need to be true to steer the industry towards a circular economy, or risk perpetuating a linear system. Closed Loop Partners is leading a research project with this type of impact assessment as one central objective of our study, alongside an assessment of collections and feedstock processing, and investment guidelines to align this sector to circular principles.

It took the solar industry 40 years to reach 1 million solar systems in the United States, but three years after hitting the 1 million mark in 2016, the U.S. surpassed 2 million systems. In 2010, only 4 percent of new electric capacity was solar, but by 2016, it was 40 percent. Technology development and building an industry around a novel technology takes time, incentives and long-term partnerships to drive investment and scale. Advanced recycling will be no different, and because the sector is newly developing, all stakeholders — brands, retailers, investors, plastic producers and recyclers, NGOs and citizens — have the opportunity and a role to play to ensure a safe and circular system and future.

In 2020, we are continuing our research in the sector to understand the environmental and human health impacts of advanced recycling processes, the policy measures and investable opportunities along the supply chain that can enable a circular future for plastics and a safe and sustainable future. We invite you to learn more about our work on advanced recycling here.

Originally published on GreenBiz

The Emerging Innovations Transforming How We’ll Bring Goods Home

By Closed Loop Partners and IDEO

November 02, 2020

The Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag Identifies 58 Shortlisted Solutions Across Reusable Design, Innovative Materials & Enabling Technology––Paving the Way Towards a More Circular Future

Explore The Shortlist

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. Kroger joined as Grocery Sector Lead Partner, DICK’S Sporting Goods as Sports & Outdoors Sector Lead Partner, and Hy-Vee and Walgreens as Supporting Partners, alongside Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy as Environmental Advisory Partners. OpenIDEO is the Consortium’s Innovation Partner.

What does it take to reinvent the retail bag? And what solutions exist today? These are the questions we asked as we launched the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag in July of this year, bringing some of the nation’s most influential retailers together to solve for the 100 billion single-use plastic bags used annually in the U.S. These bags too often end up polluting our oceans, stuck in our trees or being wasted in landfills, and it’s time that we create a better path forward. 

In August, the Consortium opened the Beyond the Bag Challenge, inviting entrepreneurs, designers, suppliers and problem-solvers to submit solutions that replace the current single-use plastic bag. Through the Challenge, the Consortium brings to light future-forward, tech-enabled solutions that can help build a new system that serves the function of the retail bag in a sustainable, affordable and inclusive way––helping transport goods from store to destination in a way that aligns with diverse retail systems and delivers ease and convenience for all. Three months and more than 450 submissions later, it’s clear that an impressive range of innovative solutions exist. Challenge submissions span the globe across 60 different countries, and represent a range of company stages, from early concept startups to established, commercial businesses. 

We’re seeing three broad categories of innovation emerge––reusable designs, innovative materials and enabling technology––that highlight key opportunity areas, showing the range of solutions and potentially groundbreaking ways we can change retail.

How might these solutions play out in the world? What might a sustainable retail bag system look like? After evaluating hundreds of potential solutions through the lenses of sustainability, business and technical viability, accessibility, customer behavior and alignment with reuse and recovery infrastructure, the Consortium announced today a shortlist of promising solutions for further exploration [SEE SHORTLIST HERE]. 

Across the Shortlist, we’re seeing three broad categories of innovation emerge––reusable designs, innovative materials and enabling technology––that highlight key opportunity areas, showing the range of solutions and potentially groundbreaking ways we can change retail. These provide a window into the future, a teaser as to what might be to come. Identifying innovation is the first step, and with the right kind of testing, honing and piloting, we can start implementing new solutions and systems at scale. 

As we collectively become smarter about what the market needs, what consumers want in a retail experience and what new technologies might enable futures we can’t yet fully envision, we will seek to better understand how these and other solutions might work together to create an interconnected and informed system that will fundamentally shift the way we are currently shopping and getting goods home.

Reusable Designs Keep Materials in Play for Multiple Uses 

Systems-Driven Reusable Packaging Integration by Returnity

 

There is a growing innovation category for retail packaging centered on reuse. These solutions use durable materials that can serve the purpose of today’s single-use bag, but remain in circulation for multiple uses within a user-friendly system. Many of these solutions also involve transferring ownership back to the producers and manufacturers––shifting away from typical purchasing models and toward renting, leasing and subscription models for packaging. These include bags-as-a-service and shared-bag systems that incentivize companies to see their products or packaging as valuable assets worth investing in. Through the Challenge, we’re seeing how this broad category comes to life in a multitude of formats, especially at the initial customer interaction point––the point of sale. Solutions range from gurney-style carts that fit in the trunk of a car, to compact reusable bag withdrawal and return stations that sit at the checkout counter and continually cleaned, reusable containers that transport products directly to customers’ homes.

The innovations coming to the fore in this category have the potential to address real challenges in the retail experience. Reuse models address short-lived disposable options, extending the use time of the retail bag from today’s 12-minute average to multiple life cycles, keeping valuable materials in play at their best and highest use. However, for their full impact to be realized, it is important to dig deeper into the structures and systems that enable their long-term environmental and economic sustainability, examining reverse logistics and conducting life cycle assessments, among other areas for evaluation.

Innovative Climate-Friendly Materials Can Reduce Impacts on the Planet

#INVISIBLEBAG by Distinctive Action Ltd

 

Designers today are recognizing that the materials they choose for a product determine how its entire life cycle will play out, from start to end. As a result, there is a growing focus on material science innovation, and a reevaluation of what goes into products for a carbon-free future. The Challenge has brought to light a whole host of new materials that broaden the way we think about the retail bag––aiming for superior performance that better meets the needs of a diverse range of customers, without creating an outsized impact on the environment. These solutions include stretchy fibers derived from nature, water-soluble films, biopolymers processed from agricultural waste, natural materials like algae, seaweed and chitin, and upcycled materials like cotton. 

Many of these pioneering solutions draw from rapidly replenishable resources and seek to add material value at end-of-life, whether through composting or recycling systems. They diversify the resources we use to begin with, relieving pressure from just one primary source––especially fossil fuels. At the same time, we need to ensure that these new solutions don’t outpace our existing recovery infrastructure, and are actually recaptured as intended after use. 

Enabling Technologies Accelerate the Uptake of Smart, Sustainable Solutions 

IoT-enabled Food Delivery & Pickup System by Minnow Technologies

 

Beyond these innovations are the underlying technological processes and systems that create a scaffolding for other solutions or systems, opening up new exchanges with customers and working towards a bagless future. These might harness Quick Response (QR) codes and/or radio frequency identification (RFID) systems that enable companies and consumers, in effect, to check products or packaging in and out along their lifespan. This increases visibility and digital connectivity, which can drive better logistics and inventory management, informing strategic decision-making and incentivizing customers through “nudges” or reward programs. Innovative and “smart” delivery models, like in store kiosks or mobile applications, can also integrate with other categories––reusable designs or innovative materials––to deliver products.

It is critical that these solutions are able to scale commercially, align with market needs and integrate within existing systems of leading retailers, laying the groundwork for long-term change that cuts across industries.

Now, how do all of these solutions come together? From a birds eye view, the range of solutions is wide, with many of them complementary and potentially overlapping. If we take into account all of the ways we use the retail bag, and all of the different people around the world using retail bags, this diversity of thinking works to our advantage. And we know there are yet more avenues to explore. As we collectively become smarter about what the market needs, what consumers want in a retail experience and what new technologies might enable futures we can’t yet fully envision, we will seek to better understand how these and other solutions might work together to create an interconnected and informed system that will fundamentally shift the way we are currently shopping and getting goods home.

Ultimately, it may not be a single solution, or even a few that solve the problem. With ever increasing ways to purchase goods come ever increasing needs for a myriad of interventions that solve for niche sets of needs within specific customer or delivery segments. In reality, there is no panacea to this complex problem––different geographic, economic and social contexts demand varied approaches that cater to diverse sets of needs. If we are to change the future of retail, these solutions, from reuse models to innovative materials to the enabling technologies, need to communicate with and interrelate within a holistic ecosystem, explore new pathways of collaboration to fill in gaps or amplify one another’s strengths, and work to advance the market together, rather than separately.  

This is just the beginning of the journey, both for solutions in the Challenge and for the Consortium collectively. In the lead up to the announcement of Challenge winners in early 2021, we’ll begin working more closely with the Shortlisted innovators, helping refine their solutions, digging deeper to understand their full economic, environmental and social impact, and exploring emerging trends. And as we begin to learn where and how these solutions might apply to today’s challenges as well as tomorrow’s, we will work to advance and implement those which can bridge this innovation gap and have an eye on adaptability and agility, or on those that might enable the successful implementation of another concept or emerging technology––all to ensure we are rolling out new ventures that not only work within the operational parameters of our Partners, but serve both customers and the market at large. Overall, it is critical that these solutions are able to scale commercially, align with market needs and integrate within existing systems of leading retailers, laying the groundwork for long-term change that cuts across industries [SEE SHORTLIST HERE].

As we enter the next phase of this initiative, we are excited to work across the Consortium’s ecosystem of emerging innovators and established retail institutions to drive toward a more inclusive, affordable and sustainable future. Join us on this journey, and stay tuned for our upcoming announcement of the final Beyond the Bag Challenge winners in early 2021.

 

Hy-Vee Joins Closed Loop Partners and Leading Retailers to Reinvent the Single-Use Plastic Retail Bag

By

October 09, 2020

Hy-Vee is the seventh company to join the Beyond the Bag Initiative, alongside CVS Health, Target, Walmart, DICK’S Sporting Goods, Kroger and Walgreens

New York (Oct. 9, 2020) — Today, Hy-Vee Inc. joined the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag as a Supporting Partner, alongside Founding Partners CVS Health, Target and Walmart, and joined by DICK’S Sporting Goods, Kroger and Walgreens. Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy launched the Consortium and its Beyond the Bag Initiative earlier this year with the aim of identifying, testing and implementing viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag.

Hy-Vee, Inc. is an employee-owned supermarket chain operating more than 275 retail stores across eight Midwestern states. “The opportunity to join the Beyond the Bag Initiative and address the shared challenges presented by single-use plastics with some of the largest and most influential retailers in our country is crucial  as we remain committed to reducing our environmental impact,” said Jay Marshall, Hy-Vee’s Vice Chairman and President of Hy-Vee’s Supply Chain and Subsidiaries. “Through this collaboration, we can truly move the needle on a global waste issue and bring to life some much-needed solutions. We look forward to contributing our knowledge and insights and collectively collaborating with other Consortium Partners to pave the way for a more sustainable future.”

“We are thrilled to welcome Hy-Vee to the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag. The collaborative power of our Consortium enables us to have impact at scale and accelerate the pace of innovation to find alternatives to the current retail bag,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “We continue to invite other retailers to join us and send a unified signal for transformational change to address this long-standing environmental challenge.”

The Kroger Co. is the Grocery Sector Lead Partner of the Consortium, directing priorities and activities for the initiative within the specific sector. “Our commitment to phase out single-use plastic bags across our enterprise is a critical part of our Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact plan,” said Lisa Zwack, Kroger’s Head of Sustainability. “We’re thrilled to welcome Hy-Vee to the Consortium and we encourage other retailers to join our search for innovative, sustainable solutions to the traditional single-use plastic bag.”

Single-use plastic bags are among the top 10 items found on beaches and waterways, and it’s estimated that we use 100 billion plastic bags per year in the U.S., contributing to a global waste challenge. The short use (12 minutes, on average) and long lifespan of the plastic bag have led to rising concerns. This is a challenge that is top-of-mind for communities and consumers who are concerned about the impact of single-use plastics on our environment and for brands who are seeking more sustainable solutions. Current alternatives can be costly and inconvenient, often trading one environmental issue for another. The retail bag needs reinventing.

In August, the Consortium launched a global innovation challenge to source solutions to replace the current plastic bag – including tech-enabled reuse models, new materials, and software and hardware innovations. The Challenge closed last week with more than 450 submissions. Consortium Partners, including retailers and Environmental Advisory Partners, alongside third-party experts will carefully review and select the Shortlist and Winners. All submissions are viewed through the lenses of sustainability, accessibility, customer behavior and alignment with reuse and recovery infrastructure. Winning concepts are eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding, participate in a Circular Accelerator to receive further assistance in scaling, and access testing and potential piloting opportunities.

The initiative not only brings together major retailers as Consortium Partners, but also engages with stakeholders across the bag value chain, including suppliers, materials recovery facilities, municipalities, advocacy groups and others to support this collaborative approach designed to promote viable market solutions that can scale, and bring value to retailers, customers and end markets. The Consortium takes a holistic three-year approach to identify and scale affordable, accessible and less wasteful solutions. It will aim to test and launch near term solutions early on in the Initiative, while also continuing to refine longer term solutions to ensure that the industry is designing both for today and tomorrow’s needs. The initiative spans multiple complementary workstreams, spurring innovation, advancing materials recovery through infrastructure investments, identifying best practices for policy and engaging consumers.

About Hy-Vee

Hy-Vee, Inc. is an employee-owned corporation operating more than 275 retail stores across eight Midwestern states with sales of $10 billion annually. The supermarket chain is synonymous with quality, variety, convenience, healthy lifestyles, culinary expertise and superior customer service. Hy-Vee ranks in the Top 10 Most Trusted Brands and has been named one of America’s Top 5 favorite grocery stores. The company’s more than 85,000 employees provide “A Helpful Smile in Every Aisle” to customers every day. For additional information, visit www.hy-vee.com.

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners convenes competitors to solve material challenges and advance the circular economy. Its first initiative, the NextGen Consortium, united leading food and beverage companies to identify and commercialize a widely recyclable, compostable and/or reusable cup. Twelve winning cup solutions were selected and the Consortium is supporting the testing and piloting of these new solutions to accelerate their path to scale. Now, in partnership with leading retailers in the United States, the focus is on the single-use plastic retail bag, a challenge and opportunity that is top-of-mind for communities and consumers concerned about the impact of single-use plastics on our environment. 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. Kroger joined as Grocery Sector Lead Partner, DICK’S Sporting Goods as Sports & Outdoors Sector Lead Partner and Hy-Vee and Walgreens as Supporting Partners, alongside Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy as Environmental Advisory Partners. OpenIDEO is the Consortium’s Innovation Partner.