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Beyond the Bag Challenge reveals nine winners: “No single answer” to plastic bag pollution crisis

February 21, 2021
Food & Drink

The nine winners of US-based investment firm Closed Loop Partners’ Beyond the Bag Challenge are ChicoBag, Domtar, Eon, Fill it Forward, Goatote, PlasticFri, Returnity, SmartC and Sway.

Funded with US$15 million, the competition took off last July, prompting “suppliers, designers and problem-solvers” to submit environmentally sustainable design solutions and standard plastic bag alternatives.

“The nine winners represent a suite of solutions because there is no one answer,” Katy Daly, managing director at the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, tells PackagingInsights.

“For years, there have been efforts to solve the single-use plastic bag global waste challenge, but there is still no industry-wide environmentally friendly solution that fully caters to the needs of the customer.”

The champions’ work ranges from reusable packaging systems to sustainability-incentivizing technology and bags derived from seaweed or agricultural waste.

The winners now enter the next phase of the initiative: working closely with the consortium to prototype, refine and test the viability of their designs as scalable long-term solutions.

Plastic bag rethink
Closed Loop Partners initiated the three-year Beyond the Bag consortium with CVS Health, Target and Walmart. Since last year, the consortium has welcomed ten additional partners, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, The TJX Companies and Walgreens.

“Stay-at-home mandates from many governments and work-from-home company policies are driving the growth of e-commerce and digitization, while consumer habits shifted almost overnight,” Daly details.

“This shake-up in retail norms presents the ideal moment for reinventing the single-use plastic bag. If there was ever a time to rethink the status quo of our retail system, it is now.”

And the winners are…
Over 450 innovators from around the world submitted their ideas on how to reinvent the retail plastic bag. The consortium then selected a shortlist of 58 concepts, from which it chose its winning cohort.

The winning plastic bag solutions fall into three categories: Reuse and Refill; Enabling Technology; and Innovative Materials.

Reuse and Refill
ChicoBag produces reusable bags, packs and totes designed for shopping, travel, organization and outdoor activities. ChicoBag further eliminates a common pain point for consumers: remembering to bring the reusable bag. Their service enables customers to borrow bags on-site as part of the sharing economy.

Goatote’s kiosk system allows consumers to access clean, reusable bags anywhere a kiosk is found. Consumers can download the Goatote app and scan a QR code to access the Goatote kiosk. After taking a reusable bag, users have 30 days to return them. Goatote collects, disinfects and quality checks the bags before they enter circulation again.

For online shoppers using pick-up services, Returnity designs and manufactures reusable shipping bags and boxes for products already on the market. It provides an e-commerce and delivery packaging system that replaces non-recyclable poly-mailers with boxes, garment bags and mailer bags made of cloth.

Enabling Technology
Specialized in the Internet of Things (IoT), Eon developed the CircularID Protocol, allowing brands to power circular and connected business models for a transparent tracking system and understand how bags are being utilized across the value chain.

Fill it Forward created a tag and app that connects to the reusable bag consumers already own. Every time a Reuse Tracker is scanned with the Fill it Forward app, users’ environmental impact is recorded and funds are donated to charitable projects worldwide.

SmartC, a tag solution co-created by 99Bridges and Envision Charlotte, is powered by the IoT to incentivize shoppers with rewards in a fun way every time they reuse their shopping bags. When participants take their SmartC bag into any participating retailer, they are rewarded with points and “the knowledge they have reduced the amount of single-use bags in the world.”

Innovative Materials
Domtar is developing a new bio-based, recyclable material of 100 percent cellulose fiber but with stretchable and more durable properties.

PlasticFri transforms agricultural waste, non-edible plants and other renewable resources into valuable bio-based products. Its Starch-Based Compostable Bag offers a new bag alternative for consumers.

Sway creates replacements for traditional plastic derived from seaweed. Its bags are bio-based, compostable and designed to be carbon-negative.

Commercialization potential
Winners will receive a portion of US$1 million in prize money and are eligible for additional financial support to support testing, piloting and scaling efforts.

Depending upon the type of solution, they will either be invited to join the Circular Accelerator or begin product testing to hone performance and customer experience.

The consortium will work closely with winning solutions throughout 2021, supporting prototyping, mentoring, and iterative developments toward piloting select solutions in-market.

Each winning bag design in the Beyond the Bag Challenge brings a unique approach to bringing goods home, concludes Daly, and together they can help pave the way for “larger, industry-wide sustainable change.”

In celebration of the 11th annual Plastic Bag Free Day last year, PackagingInsights delved into calls for the European Commission to implement more stringent plastic bag legislation.

By Anni Schleicher


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