Why Can’t Packaging Become Part of the Product?

by Gina Angie on 09/04/2012 | 4 Minute Read

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There’s so much talk about sustainability when it comes to packaging. How can we minimize the amount of packaging we use? How can we make more of it recyclable? How can we source more materials from natural, renewable resources? How can we get away from petroleum-based packaging? 

It’s fascinating to me that while all of these concepts have merit, we don’t ask the most fundamental question: how can we make packaging part of the product? I’ve advocated for this when working on toy packaging for years but invariably received the response: “Unfortunately, Walmart doesn’t give you scorecard points for doing this.” Now, this isn’t a slam against Walmart. The retail giant has worked with thousands of suppliers since 2006 to cut down on packaging everywhere possible. By taking a lead position on this, sustainable consumer product packaging has been pushed ahead by light years.

Regardless of retailer focus, manufacturers can save themselves a lot of money on package materials and their associated manufacturing costs including energy by thinking about the simple proposition of making packaging part of the product. Not to mention the good will and positive buzz they’ll get from consumers for their efforts.

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images spotted on npw-usa.com

Case in point: Tube Toys. By packaging simple toy cars, tractors and fire trucks in parts inside of a tube-style package that also becomes the body of the toy, package waste is eliminated. Kudos to London-based designer Oscar Diaz for creating this innovative packaging for NPW. http://www.npw-usa.com/page/index. Unfortunately this is the kind of toy that specialty retailers, rather than mass market stores, are likely to pick up. If more high volume retailers get behind innovative packaging like this, more manufacturers would, too.

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images spotted on fuseproject.com

How about another viable package solution? Y water is an organic, low calorie drink filled with nutritional co-factors for kids.  Here’s a good example of a product with packaging so clever, it isn’t likely to be thrown away. In fact, the manufacturer encourages kids to keep the unique interlocking packaging to play with. The bottles come with “Y knots”, large rubber bands that kids can use to connect them to build unique designs unlimited by anything except their imaginations. Love this concept for packaging.

B. Toys’ toys for young children are terrific, too. The toys are whimsical, colorful and entirely unique: childhood delights. So is the packaging, which is intentionally minimal. Recyclable materials are used as well as a minimal amount of plastic that’s also recyclable. All inks are soy based and varnishes water based for biodegradability. Toys are packaged in reusable bags. Some packaging reverses to become gift wrap. Boxes are designed to turn into pretty trays “to hold tiny treasures”. These package design concepts make me wonder why more consumer product companies haven’t taken this approach of product and package integration. 

Toys, food and beverage are categories that obviously benefit from more sustainable package design solutions. So can additional categories. PUMA, of shoe and sportswear fame, has redesigned the shoe box. A conventional box bottom is made of one piece of cardboard sheet with no laminated printing and no tissue paper. There’s no box top either. Instead, the product slides into what PUMA refers to as its “clever little bag”. Reusable and made of non-woven polyester (polypropylene) the packaging takes up less space and weighs less cutting down on transportation costs. Even better: no plastic retail bags are necessary; the shoes are already bagged! And the reusable bags can be used over and over again. When discarded, they’re recyclable. Just because shoe boxes have been made in the same manner for decades doesn’t mean that smart design can’t reimagine conventional packaging for the better.

The possibilities are endless when marketers collaborate with their design partners to reimagine packaging with the mandate to either make it part of the product; make it reusable eliminating waste or to design the product as a storage unit with the most minimal amount of waste. There are so many brilliant marketers and package designers out there: how can we push sustainable package design initiatives using these ideas to build on?

By Ted Mininni

President of Design Force,Inc.,  the leading package and licensing program design consultancy to the consumer product and entertainment industries. He blogs about these topics at www.designforceinc.com. Contact him at 856-810-2277.

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