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Retailers respond to the scourge of plastic

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Despite COVID-19’s dominance of the spotlight, environmental degradation has continued apace over the past 18 months. Climate change and other factors damaging the natural world have resulted in more frequent instances of severe storms, floods and wildfires. In response, mass market retailers and other businesses, with varying degrees of commitment and varying degrees of success, are attempting to curb practices that adversely affect the environment.

CVS Health, Target and Wal­mart took a step forward in one such initiative earlier this month, beginning a series of tests focused on reducing plastic waste. The six-week pilot at nine stores in Northern California will assess the viability of alternatives to single-use plastic bags, a significant contributor to land and water pollution. Walmart will test other potential solutions as part of its omnichannel offerings.

Anyone who questions the severity of the problem should consider the following from environmentalist Bill McKibben’s recent book Falter: “By the middle of this century the ocean may contain more plastic than fish by weight …”

As the three founding members of the Consortium to Reinvent the Plastic Bag — a group managed by investment firm Closed Loop Partners that now includes 11 other major retailers — Walmart, CVS and Target understand the severity of the threat posed by the 100 billion plastic bags used by Americans every year, and are determined to do something about it. So too are the suppliers that emerged as winners in the Beyond the Bag Challenge — ChicoBag, Fill it Forward, GOATOTE, 99Bridges, Returnity and Eon.

The participants’ shared objectives are well stated by Walmart senior vice president of sustainability Jane Ewing:

“We believe climate change requires bold collective action. Minimizing plastic waste, in particular, depends on collaboration and cooperation across the retail industry. These pilots represent a unique and exciting industrywide commitment towards a more sustainable future.”

The members of the consortium should be applauded for their willingness to help take on climate change, a problem that most scientists and an increasing number of political leaders, including President Joe Biden, characterize as an existential threat to humanity. By seeking viable alternatives to plastic bags, which have been a retail staple for decades, and implementing other measures that relate directly to the business, the industry is doing its part to alleviate the crisis and, in the process, encourage business partners and customers to do the same.


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