Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sustainable Packaging: 6 Tips for Design

According to the United Nations, our designs need to meet "the economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of the planet to provide for the needs of future generations". In other words, says illustrator, graphic designer and art director Philippe Intraligi, it's "much more than just sticking a 'green' label on existing products. It involves function, material and packaging choices."

1. Design backwards:

Before you start designing, question whether the brief is asking the right question to begin with. The conceptual stage is the most crucial and it's at this point that we as designers can effect the greatest change by looking at the problem from different angles.
Consider whether there is a way that the design or product could be smaller, lighter, made from fewer materials and designed so as to minimize waste. In the words of Sophie Thomas of Thomas Matthews: "waste is a design flaw".
Puma Sustainable Packaging
Puma Sustainable Packaging Recycling Design Process

When Yves Béhar a designer, entrepreneur, and sustainability advocate was asked to create packaging for Puma he thought outside the box; literally. Because of his design, it was estimated that 8,500 tons less paper would be used, 20 million megajoules of electricity would be saved, 1 million liters less fuel oil would be used, 1 million liters of water would be saved, 500,000 liters of diesel during transport would be saved and 275 tons of plastic would be saved. 

Some other examples are lite2go,  where the packaging of the light becomes the lampshade, and the hangers pak that acts as the delivery vessel and the clothing's hanger. 

2. Make it long-lasting: 

Has longevity been taken into account in your design? Could your product be designed to last or have great aesthetic value so that it will be kept instead of being tossed? Can there possibly be other uses of the product to prolong the product's shelf life? Could the product and packaging be refillable?
As designers, we need to shy away from disposability and planned obsolescence. While this may be more profitable in the short-term it only creates larger environmental deficits in the long-term.

Making a long lasting and functional product design is a great way to accomplish many goals. The Bobble bottle is smart solution to the current problem of disposable bottled water filling up our landfills. BPA-free and complete with a carbon filter to remove contaminants from ordinary tap water, the Bobble lasts up to two months and when expired can be completely recycled.

Canvas bags are also on the rise, like with the puma design, and are great way to reinforce your brand as well as create a reusable long lasting solution to the plastic bag.

3. Make it local and social:

Is your design going to be made and sold locally? Striving to produce products locally will not only boost the local economy and business, but will also cut down drastically on products needing to be specially packaged for shipping, as well as the overall packaging required.  It's also important to consider the social angle of projects, employing local labour to not only build community, but create jobs and a better economy.
Jill Heyes' company, Original Tea Bag Designshas created jobs for those living in the informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu, Cape Town, South Africa, while also making clever use of waste. The company makes use of used tea bags, which are dried, emptied, ironed and then painted to create various products and art. The fact that sales of the products are mostly local removes the need for excessive packaging.

4. Repurpose materials:

Is there potential to re-use products or materials in a new way, so as to eliminate waste and give it a new lease on life?  Rewined, a soy wax candle company that repurposes discarded wine bottles into candles also uses recycled letter-pressed labels and hand stamped stickers.

Thomas Matthews, a London-based communication design studio focused on sustainability, created its full corporate identity range using surplus printers' waste.

5. Make it recyclable:

After the product has no possible further use is it constructed or made in such a way so that it is completely recyclable?

These Cereal Revolution boxes were designed to be the absolute perfect size so as to minimize waste and shipping space. They are constructed so that there is very little use of glue and are printed on 100 per cent recycled paperboard with soy-based inks. The boxes are fully recyclable, even the bag holding the cereal is made from compostable cellophane.

Some wine companies are also moving away from glass wine bottles to a much more easily recyclable cardboard based box-bottles. 

6. Make it biodegradable:

Could the product or packaging be designed so as to be biodegradable? Vendors, such as Sun Chips, have developed packaging that is self-compostable. The bag is made of plant-based material. It will break down within 14 weeks in a hot, active compost pile.
Sun Chips Biodegradable Compostable Chip Package

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