The Need: Globally, people use about 1 trillion plastic bags a year, and each bag has a dismally short lifespan of as little as 12 minutes. Fewer than 10% of them are recycled in the U.S., and single-use plastic bags continue to be one of the top ten items found along beaches and waterways. This is a massive challenge Walmart must approach as a leading retailer.
Last summer, Walmart set out on the path to look beyond the plastic retail bag and identify solutions that could serve a similar function, while delivering convenience for customers and lessening the environmental impact. Through their engagement in the Beyond the Bag Initiative, Walmart worked hard to accelerate the pace of innovation and viable, sustainable solutions.
In 2020, Walmart joined Closed Loop Partners’ “Beyond the Bag” effort as a Founding Partner, along with Target and CVS Health. Since then, the consortium has welcomed additional support from other retailers, including Kroger, The TJX Companies, Inc., Dollar General, DICK’S Sporting Goods and more. The Beyond the Bag Challenge, launched with global design firm IDEO, received a host of extraordinary ideas from all around the world. Solutions centered around novel technologies, leveraging the internet of things to connect customers to circular bag systems in-store or at home. Other proposals brought innovative materials, or built on existing ones, to drive alternative solutions to single-use plastic bags.
The Solution: To eliminate single-use packaging in Walmart’s InHome Grocery Delivery Program, Returnity custom designed a durable reusable bag and the collection and cleaning system that increased performance through tech integration and an enhanced customer experience. Walmart sought Returnity’s solution to design, implement and manage client-specific reusable shipping and delivery packaging systems. Our products reduce packaging costs over 50%, packaging emissions over 60% and wins the doorstep experience. Returnity facilitates asset management, cleaning, and end-of-life management to ensure a seamless transition to a circular economy. Secondary packaging reuse necessitates low-cost reaggregation and cleaning, high levels of customer participation – and a bag or box that offers the exact size, content protection and branding necessary to optimize the integration. Returnity offers packaging cleaning, asset management and end-of-life management to enable a seamless transition to reusable packaging.
What makes it particularly smart or circular? Returnity is building a more circular tomorrow in three ways. First, we have become the vendor of choice for the growing group of circular brands in apparel rental and refillable home and beauty goods. Second, we are helping established brands identify, pilot, and scale new circular offerings. And finally, we are managing the cleaning, asset management and end-of-life management solutions for those clients once their programs deploy and therefore, providing an end-to-end solution. The pandemic has reinforced the value of localized production to enable lower costs, lower environmental impact, and more consistent production. Returnity is mapping a product future that allows for market and customer-specific material and manufacturing via existing infrastructure.
Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: Returnity reusable packaging on average eliminates the use of 7.5 single-use bags per home delivery. Active grocery delivery customers purchase 2.8 times per month, and over 15 million households are frequent online grocery shoppers. Reusable bags have the potential to be used for over 500 million deliveries per year, replacing over 3 billion single use bags.
Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve? Target 2
How are you communicating your success? We highlighted our program at the Beyond the Bag Demo Day in early October 2021 and have since then released our collaboration on various platforms.
What’s Next? 2025 is a demarcation point for the integration of reusable packaging, and Returnity is building the infrastructure to lead omni-channel brands into that supply chain future:
Roadblocks & Lessons Learned: Beyond the Bag is an amazing opportunity for us because it’s a test for us to validate the different techniques and system changes that are required to make reusables work. This pilot was structured in a way that allowed us to get in front of the problem, rather than leaving it to the customer. We learned that packaging impacts every internal and external stakeholder. Being able to map out the journey of the package, examine how each stakeholder engages with the packaging, generate feedback from each stakeholder and continue iterating the program was vital to the program’s success. Reusable packaging systems can become the right operational, economic and sustainability choice for brands – but a define, learn, refine approach is critical. Creating stakeholder change (both internal and external) will take time, but the building blocks are there when approached with the right vision and support.
Core Team, Partners, & Participants: Returnity BD & Engineering, Walmart InHome and Circular Economy teams, EON Group, IDEO, Closed Loop Partners
Time Frame: 8 months
Quote: “The goal to create a reusable bag program in order to eliminate single-use bags is clear. Walmart has successful models for in-store and grocery pickup fulfillment, but delivery is much more challenging. We saw an opportunity to pilot a program using InHome delivery. Walmart found great partners in Returnity, to design and manufacture the perfect bags as well as manage the reverse logistics and cleaning that has become critical given the Covid-19 pandemic, and Eon to create the QR codes and provide data on how frequently bags are being returned, the % of bags lost and damaged – all critical to understanding customer behavior to plan for the next phase!” – Tyler Keene, Packaging and Fulfillment, Walmart InHome