A Closer Look At Dieline's 2020 Plastic-Free Innovation Award Winners

by Bill McCool on 05/21/2020 | 4 Minute Read

Now in its second year, Dieline Awards gives out the Plastic-Free Innovation Award to the best packaging project that utilizes plastic-free materials. Already, it’s one of the prizes we most look forward to as we not only honor technological achievement, but it gives us a chance to see how designers and agencies employ new or already existing materials.

The award is given out in conjunction with non-profit A Plastic Planet (APP), an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the amount of plastic we use, particularly when it comes to packaging. Co-founded by Sian Sutherland, APP, along with Dieline, wanted to honor the projects that can fundamentally transform our relationship with the packaging we come into contact with, offering solutions for products we use on a day-to-day basis. 

Last year's top winner was Cove, a replacement for the common water bottle made from PHA, and the thread that emerges from all of our 2019 and 2020 winners is that you'll find relatively simple—yet beautiful—alternatives that offer the same function and properties as plastic. Because that's what the award comes down to-finding replacements for some of the world's most popular and persistent forms of plastic packaging.

We talked to Sian Sutherland from A Plastic Planet about the top three winners from this year’s Dieline Awards and got some insight into what makes these projects stand out.

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First Place - Pearl  

Do you ever think about ketchup packets? Maybe you see a bin full of them at a burger joint and think about how there’s a box or two in the back of the restaurant that is also full of them? And then you think about how those boxes were also once on a truck or in a distribution center that was also full of other boxes full of ketchup packets?

You get the idea.

“Every year, humans produce almost a trillion little plastic packets,” Sian says. “Single-serve, single-use sachets of ketchup, soy sauce, shampoo and detergent, face wipes, the list is endless.”  

That’s why this year’s first-place award went to Swedish brand consultancy Grow for Pearl, a fiber-based alternative to plastic sample packets prevalent throughout the beauty and skincare industry. The paper pods were developed along with BillerudKorsnäs and Syntegon and found inspiration in the natural shape of sea urchins. The shells for the project are both elegant and seemingly delicate, utilizing 3D properties that give consumers a tactile experience.

“The plastic packet sachet has always been considered too hard to replace,” Sian adds. “This is exactly how our future should look,” she adds. “Aspirational, beautiful, and best of all, using a sustainable material nature can easily handle.”  

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Second Place - Puck 

The cannabis industry has a plastic problem, and a lot of it has to do with child-resistant packaging, an unfortunate but also necessary regulation. 

"Regrettably, plastic has become the default for so much of both the new cannabis market but also vitamins and supplements," Sian says. "This is partly driven by the easy choice of off-the-shelf plastic options but also the need for a childproof seal. So it is great to see one of the first cannabis brands to push back against this trend and create a new childproof plastic-free alternative."

Packed LLC delivers cannabis packaging in a rounded tin, and they developed a screw-off mechanism over three years that would still be easy for consumers to open, but damn-near impossible for a kid to break into. Better still, the vessel can get branded easily (please, no plastic stickers) and should become the packaging star of dispensaries everywhere once they officially launch.

One thing that gets lost when we discuss recreational cannabis is its purported benefits. Medicinal advocates made these arguments for decades, but now recreational users can access the drug for common, nagging ailments like anxiety, sleeplessness, and treating chronic pain relief. But when you have this kind of product that can get applied in over the counter, therapeutic ways, the packaging should be equally beneficial for the environment, creating a wellness message that applies to both the consumer and the planet.

“Wellbeing brands must be holistic,” Sian adds. “The product and the packaging must both reflect this.” 

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Third Place - Hello

The search for a recyclable toothpaste tube has been a white whale for the personal care industry for some time, and it’s only now that we’re starting to see any progress.

However, a few brands have challenged the notion of what toothpaste can be, taking it out of squeezable, gel form and turning it into a tablet you chew. Products like Hello are giving us chewable toothpaste, but they’re packaging it sustainably in a tin. Hello’s peppermint variation, designed in-house, comes in a sleek, baby-blue tin featuring their smiling wordmark. The charcoal product looks similar but has pitch-black packaging.

“Category disruption is challenging, especially a market as well established and cookie-cutter as toothpaste,” Sian says. “Hello have shaken it up completely, and we are aware of many commendable others that are helping build out a radically new way for us to buy and use a daily essential. Toothpaste tubes are famously unrecyclable, and most of the big brands' innovations have fallen short. Hello have also secured mass distribution, which ensures a significant impact on plastic reduction.”

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