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Closed Loop Partners Drops Playbook for Slashing Single-Use Plastic

On average, single-use plastic bags from retail stores are used for just 12 minutes, but they languish in landfills for generations. With 100 billion bags used at U.S. brick-and-mortar retail each year, even a 1 percent reduction would represent a triumph, according to Closed Loop Partners.

The New York investment firm’s Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag is sharing a free document filled with tips and tricks for single-use plastic reduction, which can be leveraged by mom-and-pop boutiques and national chains alike. Insights were derived from research, interviews, surveys and collaborative discussions with leading retailers and retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle. The groups focused on developing best practices for communication, employee training, bag and fixture design and customer incentives, highlighting 25 strategies for stores looking to slash bag use.

“Our new playbook walks retailers through strategies they can implement today to get teams and customers on board with reducing single-use bags in stores and encourage shoppers to reuse their own bags,” Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, said this week. “This tool is for retailers who are looking for quick wins and those seeking innovative, new approaches.”

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The playbook contains detailed suggestions about how to prompt customers to bring their own bags—from “quick wins,” or lower effort solutions, like implementing strategically-placed signage and skipping double bagging, to “big bets” like charging fees to disincentivize bag use or creating geofenced digital reminders that send push notifications to shoppers’ phones.

Closed Loop’s consortium identified the most effective communications strategies for implementing these changes while also engaging shoppers, like using positive language that makes them feel like they’re a part of a greater effort to save the planet. “We thank you for helping the environment by continuing to reuse your bags,” was one example.

The Consortium, which has been working to reframe the ways that stores and local delivery providers use plastic bags since 2020, has onboarded 15 retail partners and deployed over 6,000 tests, surveys and pilots across different U.S. markets. In 2023, the group plans to open up those efforts to include new strategies and partners, including pilots in Arizona and Colorado, where it will launch signage, marketing and customer prompts across a number of stores with the goal of shifting customer behavior. Local community stores and large brands are invited to join and test the strategies and deliver their findings.

New Jersey will see a ban on single-use plastic bags in certain stores this year. In that market, the Consortium will test a returnable bag service model wherein shoppers borrow a bag on site and eventually return it to the same retail store, or another location, where it will be collected, washed and redistributed for use.

“We hope these insights serve as an inspiration to retailers looking to reduce their plastic footprint and deploy bag reduction solutions,” Daly said.