Beyond the Bag- Reinventing the Retail Bag

The 'Beyond the Bag' initiative is looking at reinventing the retail bag by inviting the submission of new ideas. Anyone can enter, with winning solutions eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding to develop their solution.

**UPDATE 21st Feb 2021** The 9 winning ideas for the ‘Beyond the Bag’ challenge have been announced, with ideas that are pushing the boundaries of systems design, technology and material innovation. Check out the winners here

**UPDATE 4th Nov 2020** The shortlist for the ‘Beyond the Bag’ challenge has been released, with 58 new ideas for material innovations and designs for the retail bag. Check out the full list here

Leading retailers across the US are uniting to focus on reinventing the retail bag and address single-use plastic bag waste. The ‘Beyond The Bag’ Initiative, is a multi-year collaboration across different retail sectors in the United States. 

Through the scheme, they aim to identify, test and implement innovative new design solutions. The aim is to provide the same function as today’s retail bags, delivering ease and convenience for consumers whilst reducing the impact on the environment. 

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What is the ‘Beyond the Bag’ initiative?

The initiative aims to reinvent the everyday retail bag. By identifying, testing and implementing viable design solutions and models, the aim is to create a more sustainable alternative to replace the current single-use model. The scheme will launch on August 3, 2020, in partnership with global design firm IDEO. The ‘Beyond the Bag’ foundation goals are:

  • Reduce the use of virgin materials from natural resources, whilst also reducing the greenhouse gases emitted due to production and recovery of retail bags.
  • Identify & Scale innovative new design solutions to replace the current retail bag.
  • Divert retail bags from landfill and increase the percentage of bags being repurposed.
  • Inspire and engage people to drive new options for the retail bag system.

This initiative’ brings together some of the largest and most influential retailers in the United States. The aim is to think outside the box, driving long-term and transformational strategies to address a complex global issue. 

Beyond the Bag- Reinventing the Retail Bag Partners
Beyond the Bag- Retailers Reinventing the Retail Bag. Source:

It seeks to identify innovative new design solutions to address the actual packaging for transporting products from the point of sale to the final customer destination. This includes exploring reusable systems, altogether bagless solutions, and innovative materials for a less wasteful future.

How can you get involved?

Beyond the Bag are welcoming participants to submit their solutions to the challenge through one of three submission channels. They are looking for:

  • Solutions including reusable models, bagless solutions, innovative materials.
  • Solutions to transport goods from retailer to final destination while replacing the single-use plastic retail bag with an improved solution.
  • Solutions exploring point of sale checkout, in-store pickup, local delivery from a retailer or other critical moments along the “retailer to destination” journey.
Beyond the Bag- Reinventing the Retail Bag
Beyond the Bag. Reinventing the Retail Bag. Source:

Winning solutions will be eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding, and selected ideas are also eligible to participate in the Beyond the Bag Accelerator and access potential piloting opportunities.

You can submit your solution here.

Why does the retail bag need reinventing?

For the past few decades, the single-use plastic bag has reigned as the dominant design solution for getting a purchase home. The majority of retail plastic bags are made from single-use plastic and are not compostable. They often end up in landfill, in the natural environment, or in the wrong recycling stream. 

  • One hundred billion plastic bags are used per year in the US.
  • One bag has an average time use of just 12 minutes.
  • The average single-use bag has a lifespan of 1000 years.
  • It is the top 10 litter item found on a beach.
Why must we reinvent the retail bag
Why does the retail bag need reinventing? Source:

With the Beyond a Bag initiative, they want to be advancing a more sustainable and waste-free future for the retail bag, driving progress and momentum across the retail industry.

Why are the current solutions not working?

Closed Loop Partners have released a full report to document why current solutions are not working and why there is the need to ‘reinvent the retail bag’. The report details issues with the current solutions.

Paper Bags

Paper has been a staple alternative for decades and pre-dates single-use plastic bags as the original retail bag. Standard, square-bottomed paper bags are most frequently made from Kraft paper, which is manufactured from wood chips. The wood chips are heated into a pulp, which is screened, washed, and pressed into the durable bags we all recognise. While paper bags are easier to recycle, they typically require more energy and greenhouse gas emissions to produce, at least for virgin fibre, and their reuse rates are low.

Plastic Bags

Plastic bags with a thickness of at least 2.25 millimetres in most U.S. states are considered reusable, and above 50 microns in the E.U. These bags are becoming popular alternatives for retail stores in jurisdictions where thin, single-use bags are banned. They are slightly more resource-intensive to produce than single-use plastic bags and would have to be reused between 4 – 11 times before making up for their bigger upfront environmental costs. However, there is scepticism about how many times these types of bags are actually reused– one study showed that of seven hundred forty shoppers using reusable plastic bags, only four had even reused them.

Tote Bags

Tote bags are often made of sturdy cotton (or jute to a lesser extent) and are promoted as eco-friendly alternatives to retail single-use plastic bags. Conventional cotton production requires a lot of pesticides and fertilizers, water, and land, resulting in environmental contamination and pollution, soil erosion and degradation, and other impacts. While these bags have more reuse potential, a study by the U.K. Environment Agency found that cotton bags have to be reused at least 131 times before they match the carbon output of many retail single-use plastic bags.

Download the full report here

Further Reading: Amazon Packaging: Less Packaging, More Smiles. Read More

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