Innovative Package Design Is the Key to Sustainable Packaging

Innovative Package Design Is the Key to Sustainable Packaging

By Heidi Reidel

Sustainable packaging has become the focus of manufacturers for some time now. Sustainable packaging not only appeals to an increasingly eco-conscious customer base, but, if done correctly, can reduce manufacturing costs. Improving upon recycling is one solution, but an innovative packaging design can reduce packaging waste right at the source.

Small Changes, Big Results

Unilever has made it their goal to become a zero-waste company, so as a company that purchases over 2 million tons of packaging a year, the task of eliminating the environmental impact of an amount that daunting will be a challenge. In 2014, they reduced the polyethylene coating on the inside walls of their Breyers ice cream packaging. They estimated a 130 metric ton reduction of polyethylene per year. Even simply by reducing cap size and cap and bottle variety of Sunsilk shampoo and conditioner in Brazil, Unilever saved 2,300 tons of plastic.

Evaluating Components

Evaluating the components of a package design is an effective way to reduce packaging waste. Manufacturers determine which components are unnecessary and how to replace those components in a way that uses less material. For example, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare’s Os-Cal calcium supplement changed their packaging design by eliminating a secondary carton and insert and printing all their information directly on the bottle. The switch saved a significant amount of paper and CO2 emissions.

Reusable Packaging

Another way for companies to reduce waste is to make their packaging reusable. Pizza Hut is introducing a new pizza box design that breaks down into plates and a smaller box for leftovers. Kentucky Fried Chicken put out a reusable sides container which is essentially a dishwasher and microwave-safe tupperware. PUMA switched their shoe packaging to a reusable bag. The switch reduced paper consumption by 65% and is estimated to reduce water, energy, and diesel consumption at the manufacturing level by more than 60% per year.

Innovative Package Design

Of course, the ideal way to reduce packaging waste is to eliminate the package. This seems like an impossibility, as packaging serves very specific and necessary purposes, but a designer named Aaron Mickelson found several innovative ways to drastically reduce or even eliminate packaging from popular household products. In a design for Tide PODS, he created a stitched-together sheet of laundry pods with brand info printed on the back in soap-soluble ink. The sheet is then rolled into a tube where the customer need only tear off a pod one-by-one until they are all gone and the packaging along with it.

He used a similar method for Glad garbage bags. The bags are rolled into a tube and removed one by one from the center like a box of tissues, but the outermost garbage bag serves as the container rather than a cardboard box. Brand information is printed on the outer bag and, like the pods, when the last one is used, the packaging disappears along with it.

Eliminating unnecessary inserts and extra cartons is a start, but if manufacturers choose to employ Mickelson’s designs, it could be a game-changer for packaging. Proper recycling would be a non-issue. Of course, not all products, particularly food, can be packaged in such an innovative way. In these cases, reusable containers might serve the same purpose of eliminating waste. Creative packaging design is the key to reducing and eventually eliminating packaging waste.

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