by Rob Repta on 06/01/2015 | 4 Minute Read

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End users have increasingly put pressure on retailers to make their packaging more sustainable. In turn, the pressure is now put on the packaging designer - but how do you tackle the project? As designers, by knowing the parameters and overcoming hurdles both you and the client will be set up for success.

Here are five common hurdles designers face when designing for sustainable packaging:

1. It’s Expensive

Hurdle: Everybody wants to go green until they realize just how much green it’ll cost. In the business of retail, it all comes down to one thing: budget. It doesn’t sound romanic and sexy, but it is the harsh reality. Eco-friendly packaging is not always cheap.

Solution: Find different ways to solve for the end goal while making it look good. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself in a corner if the entire package can’t be recycled. Find elements in the packaging that can be recycled or that can be made from post-consumer waste. Eco-friendly parts of a packaging is better than nothing at all.


2. It’s the Law

Hurdle: Certain states like California have strict regulations, and each state has different rules. What works for one state may not work for another, unfortunately, there is no current standardized rule for all U.S. states.

Solution: Know the regulations for each state and solve for all of them. This is imperative when making design decisions and selecting substrates. The simplest method may be to follow California’s lead and implement their requirements for all of the client’s packaging instead of separating them out, which can increase costs. 


3. It’s Complicated

Hurdle: Consumers have to read recycling instructions reducing the likelihood of having them recycle; not all parts of a package can be processed. To add to the difficulty, some bags and boxes use confusing instructions and symbols they don’t understand.

Solution: Keep it simple - make the directions short and clear, consumers don’t have the patience to read complex recycling instructions. New processes are also being developed to further recyclability in packaging. For example paper-woven handles in shopping bags means they don’t have to tear out a ribbon or rope. (you knew consumers are required to remove the handles, right?)


4. It’s Limiting

Hurdle: Processes like laminations and hot stamps render the package unrecyclable. Metallic hot stamps are not recyclable due to it’s metal content, and lamination coatings use plastics which is not dissolvable by water. Even if there are material alternatives for foils and lamination, most recycling centers don’t have the time to test if a material is recyclable or not.

Solution: Find alternatives that will make the packaging look aesthetically pleasing. Don’t compromise the quality of design just because a hot stamp or lamination can’t be used. Make use of color, hierarchy and graphics to convey the brand message.


5. Track Record

Hurdle: Most people are unaware of the carbon footprint the packaging process takes. From papers mill to shelves - it’s a long journey full of sustainability road blocks.

Solution: Don’t just design and forget about the rest of the process. Ask yourself: is the paper FSC certified? How can I maximize PCW content without needing to increase virgin fiber content? How can I use structural design to reduce the carbon footprint for shipping?


Progress is being made for recycling, but make sure you’re informed before beginning design. Educate the client on sustainable practices and the costs involved. Collaborate with factories and paper mills so that the packaging you design for sustainability, truly is. The solution may not always be obvious, but by thinking outside the box, you’ll find solutions to make packaging a little more sustainable.

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Rob Repta is both Senior Designer and Social Media Strategist at Design Packaging Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona. Together with Creative Director Evelio Mattos and the multi-talented creative team, provide clients with luxury and experimental packaging designs. Rob received his bachelor's degree from the Art Institute of Phoenix with honors and quickly became involved with the AIGA Arizona community, serving the board as Membership Director for two years. His favorite treats are French macarons with espresso (black), and juicy all-American burgers.

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