Not to give you a massive guilt-trip, but those single-use plastic bags you throw away after every quick errand are becoming a major problem. To put it in perspective, out of the 100 billion plastic bags produced in the United States alone, less than 10 percent are actually recycled—I know, yikes. It’s been a hot-button topic for years now, but the situation is only getting worse, so the Beyond the Bag Innovation Challenge feels like a true sign of change to come.
How do you stop single-use plastic bag waste? You go straight to the retailers themselves, of course. Big names like CVS, Target and Walmart teamed up with the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners last year to kick off the aforementioned Beyond the Bag Challenge, which launched a worldwide search for the very best solutions to replace these bags once and for all. The initiative received a whopping 450 submissions(!), all of which were sifted through and boiled down to an impressive top nine.
The winners of the Beyond The Bag Challenge are as follows: ChicoBag, Domtar, Eon, Fill it Forward, GOATOTE, PlasticFri, Returnity, SmartC and Sway. Each of these nine companies have experience in a wide range of eco-friendly tactics, from reusable packaging systems to bag options that are made from seaweed and other waste byproducts. Slowly but surely, they’ve done their part to create less waste and make our world a better place. With the help of the Center for the Circular Economy and major retailers, their great ideas will reach a wider range of consumers, thereby making their impact that much more powerful.
Now that the winners have all been announced, each company will work closely with the Consortium to further develop their plastic bag alternatives after receiving a portion of $1 million dollars to put towards their big ideas. The Consortium will aid each company with everything from design research to developing prototypes. The winners have been divvied into three categories based on what their solution targets: Reuse and Refill, Enabling Technology and Innovative Materials.
While it’ll be some time before we get to hold these plastic bag alternatives in our hands, it’s refreshing to know that big companies are thinking about the future and acknowledging their part in creating waste on a major scale. In addition to the Consortium’s founding partners—CVS Health, Target and Walmart, who have committed a combined $15 million to the initiative—even more major retailers have gotten on board since the Beyond the Bag Challenge was announced, including DICK’S Sporting Goods, Dollar General, Kroger, Albertsons Companies, Hy-Vee, Meijer and Walgreens.
It’s important to note that the nine winning companies aren’t competing for the best single solution. Instead, the Consortium is working holistically to explore every possible option for combating single-use plastic bag waste, proving just how multifaceted the issue has become. The goal is long-term progress and change, not a quick fix for next time you need to grab a few things at CVS.
Below, check out a little more detail on each of the nine winning companies, and check out more about the Beyond the Bag initiative here.
“Reuse and Refill” Winners
If you’re a fan of reusable shopping totes, Chicobag is for you. This service offers bags to borrow on-site for customers who forget to bring their own.
You know those kiosks in the mall that sell literally anything and everything?! GOATOTE kiosks sell reusable bags, so you’ll always be able to get your hands on them.
Here’s one for all you online shoppers! Returnity creates reusable shipping and delivery bags and boxes for the stuff you already buy, so you don’t have to feel guilty shopping from your fave sites. Fashion-lovers may already be familiar with their Rent the Runway garment bags.
“Enabling Technology” Winners
Eon is credited with creating the CircularID Protocol, which facilitates data-exchange across the circular economy. To keep it simple, they’ve created a more transparent way to track how bags are utilized (or under-utilized) across the value chain.
Fill it Forward
App-lovers will adore Fill it Forward, which allows users to tag their reusable bags and then track their environmental impact. They can even earn rewards for their eco-friendly practices and give back to charitable projects in the process.
Created by 99Bridges and Envision Charlotte, SmartC incentivizes shoppers with rewards to motivate them to reuse their shopping bags. It’s powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and employs interactive tactics to make users more likely to reach for their reusable bags.
“Innovative Materials” Winners
Domtar is looking to replace dangerous plastics with a bio-based, recyclable material made of 100 percent cellulose fiber. It’s stretchy and durable, not to mention a heck of a lot better for our planet.
PlasticFri has created starch-based compostable bags as plastic alternatives. These bags makes use of agricultural waste, non-edible plants and renewable resources, so there isn’t any long-term negative effect to using them.
Plastic bags can harm our oceans—so why not look to the oceans for a solution? Sway uses a bio-based, carbon-negative seaweed-derived material to make bags that look like plastic, but are way more eco-friendly.