Beyond the Bag Challenge Selects 9 Winners

Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Beyond the Bag Challenge Selects 9 Winners
The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners announces winners of its competition: ChicoBag, Domtar, Eon, Fill it Forward, GOATOTE, PlasticFri, Returnity, SmartC and Sway.

The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners has revealed a nine winners of the Beyond the Bag Challenge, which aims to identify innovative new design solutions that serve the function of today’s single-use plastic retail bag — delivering ease and convenience for consumers in a sustainable way.

The winners are ChicoBag, Domtar, Eon, Fill it Forward, GOATOTE, PlasticFri, Returnity, SmartC and Sway. The winning solutions fall into three categories: Reuse and Refill; Enabling Technology; and Innovative Materials.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackle a problem as complex as our reliance on single-use plastic bags," said Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at New York-based investment firm Closed Loop Partners. "The diversity of our winners underscores how businesses and consumers alike need to employ a range of solutions to fit different geographic, social and economic contexts. We're thrilled to announce these companies entering the next phase of the initiative as we continue to support their growth and begin to implement select pilot programs."

Here’s a closer look at the winning solutions:

Category: Reuse and Refill
Chico, California-based ChicoBag eliminates a common pain point for consumers: remembering their reusable bag. Its service enables customers to borrow bags on-site as part of the sharing economy.

Category: Reuse and Refill
St. Paul, Minnesota-based GOATOTE’s kiosk system allows consumers to access clean, reusable bags anywhere a kiosk is found.

Category: Reuse and Refill
For those who shop online or use pick-up services, Santa Cruz, California-based 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.

Category: Enabling Technology
New York-based Eon created the CircularID Protocol, which facilitates data exchange across the circular economy for a transparent tracking system to understand how bags are being used across the value chain.

Fill it Forward
Category: Enabling Technology
Guelph, Ontario-based Fill it Forward developed a tag and app that connect to the reusable bags that consumers already own, allowing them to track environmental impact, earn rewards and help give nutritious food to people in need.

Category: Enabling Technology
SmartC, a solution co-created by 99Bridges and Envision Charlotte, is powered by the Internet of Things to incentivize shoppers with rewards in a fun and engaging way every time that they reuse their shopping bags.

Category: Innovative Materials
Fort Mill, South Carolina-based Domtar is developing a new bio-based recyclable material of 100% cellulose fiber, but with stretchable and more durable properties.

Category: Innovative Materials
Stockholm, Sweden-based PlasticFri transforms agricultural waste, nonedible plants and other renewable resources into valuable bio-based products; its Starch-Based Compostable Bag offers a new bag alternative for consumers.

Category: Innovative Materials
San Francisco-based Sway creates replacements for traditional plastic derived from seaweed, so its bags are bio-based, compostable and designed to be carbon-negative.

The winners now enter the next phase of the initiative: working closely with the Closed Loop PartnersConsortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag to prototype, refine and test the viability of their designs to scale as long-term solutions.

Launched in 2020, Beyond the Bag is a three-year effort to create sustainable and cost-effective retail bag solutions. Consortium Founding Partners CVS Health, Target and Walmart committed $15 million collectively to the collaboration. The initiative also unites other major retailers as consortium partners, among them Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dollar General, Kroger, Albertsons Cos.Hy-Vee, Meijer, Wakefern Food Corp. and Walgreens. The consortium additionally works with such stakeholders as suppliers, materials recovery facilities, municipalities and advocacy groups to collectively identify viable market solutions that can scale and bring value to retailers, customers and end markets.

It is estimated that American use 100 billion plastic bags per year and that fewer than 10% are recycled. Single-use plastic bags continue to be one of the top 10 items found along beaches and waterways, according to data from Ocean Conservancy's "International Coastal Cleanup." The global threats brought about by climate change and the pandemic have only underscored the urgency of addressing the current system.

The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners offers a holistic approach to tackling complex challenges to the circular economy, by operating across every point of the value chain. This enables the center and its partners to better understand the diversity of needs across multiple sectors, enhance buy-in from key players and identify opportunities. 

"It is exciting to see the potential of our efforts to reimagine the single-use bag in action as we unveil these innovative solutions," said Eileen Howard Boone, SVP, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health. "We look forward to exploring opportunities to pilot these solutions at CVS Pharmacy locations."

"We know that tackling this challenge requires a holistic approach to best serve the needs of people, the business and the planet," said Amanda Nusz, SVP of corporate responsibility at Minneapolis-based Target. "We're excited by the nine winners together they offer a compelling range of possibilities and inspiring potential solutions to this urgent and necessary work."

"We're proud to be part of a collaborative endeavor like the Beyond the Bag Initiative," added Jane Ewing, SVP sustainability at Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart. "The Beyond the Bag Challenge winners inspire us to reimagine a more sustainable future, showcasing the breadth and tangibility of innovative solutions, and we look forward to supporting them in their development."

More than 450 innovators from around the world submitted their ideas for the Beyond the Bag Challenge. 
Winners will receive a portion of $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, a mentorship program to further hone and advance their solutions, or begin product testing to improve performance, customer experience and more. The consortium will work closely with winning solutions throughout 2021, supporting design research, prototyping, mentoring and iterative developments toward piloting select solutions in-market. 

Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS Health, Target, Albertsons, Dollar General, Meijer, Wakefern Food Corp./ShopRite and Hy-Vee are Nos. 1,3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 16, 19, 25 and 33, respectively, on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2020 listing of North America’s top retailers of food and consumables. 

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