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How to Envision the Circular Packaging of the Future; Advice for Design Students

by Ilkka Harju on 10/06/2022 | 4 Minute Read

The pandemic has contributed to a change in consumers' consumption behavior. Take-out meals, ordering in, and online shopping continue to increase. For designers and creatives, it's our responsibility to do everything we can to make this trend more sustainable. 

Brand owners, packaging manufacturers, and paperboard suppliers like Metsä Board must collaborate to promote renewable materials, reduce waste production, and make the packaging easily recyclable after use. And we encourage all designers to pay attention to the package’s entire lifecycle. New concepts should incorporate how to maximize the use of renewable raw materials and how to minimize material usage. We know that lightweighting a piece of packaging can have a substantial effect on its sustainability. So, designing fit-for-purpose packaging that's easily recyclable is essential and is at the core of the circular economy.

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Students of design can be the trendsetters for sustainable packaging. That’s the message for the third round of The Better With Less - Design Challenge to find new talent and refine circular packaging ideas—with zero waste. In addition to prize money for the three best zero-waste package designs, one student will also win an internship at Metsä Board’s Excellence Center in Finland.

Here’s some valuable advice for students from a few of our esteemed jury members: 

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Brian Collins, chief creative officer, Collins 

“You will know you are inventing the new when you are at the boundary of what you know and what you do not know. Imagination thrives and explodes at those frontiers. That's where you should live and work and thrive as we all try to create new ways to be designers and better citizens of the world around us. 

Ignore all the nonsense of people saying 're-think, re-imagine, re-invent!' Just think. Just imagine. Just invent.”

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Ben Parker, co-founder of creative design studio Made Thought

“How we take, make, and waste is the narrative that will occupy the rest of our careers—using new systems, new models, origin, provenance, impact, traceability, transparency, culpability, liability, and responsibility. It’s about what impact and legacy things leave behind. We now live in a time where everything is changing and getting rethought. 

What an amazing time to be a designer. 

The most pressing need for sustainability is to make it desirable—I want it, not just I need it. Most sustainability is just plain boring. So finding a new aesthetic is critical, a new language that goes beyond the gloss and shine of plastic and synthetics. We need to find a more natural aesthetic—one that can return to earth with no toxins OR product aesthetics that people are comfortable living with and can grow old with them. There will be another 2 billion people on the planet in the next 28 years—design for them. This is an amazing opportunity for reinvention with new ideas, systems, and mindsets.”

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Carin Blidholm Svensson, creative director and founder, BVD

“Take a look at your everyday life and situations where you encounter packaging that’s not working in the best way possible and maybe even annoys you. Look at the whole journey of the product from production to end of use. What problems can the structural design and graphic communication help to solve? Where are the pain points? Where can you improve? Or start with your favorite things—what type of products or services gives you energy and joy? Use that energy in your creativity. 

Then focus on solving one problem rather than many. It’s probably impossible to solve every issue, so look for the most obvious obstacle. Is it the material itself that provides an opportunity to swap from plastic to paper to achieve a better solution? Or can your idea make fresh food last longer and cut food waste? 

Or is the biggest problem how to avoid packaging waste and minimize material use? If your idea is around circularity, how can you help consumers to recycle and communicate that effectively?”

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Brandi Parker, head of sustainability, Pearlfisher

“As a student, you have the amazing advantage of NOT being in the industry, not being jaded, nor made cynical by some of the harsh realities of the business world. Use this to your advantage. Look to non-traditional areas for inspiration—yes, you should solve the problems presented and that exist in the world, but do so from your own angle.  

One extraordinary and often overlooked source is nature. Sure, it sounds trite, or perhaps even cliche, but biomimicry and the technology that has come from observing the natural world has been an immense boon for moving sustainability forward. In nature, there is no waste. What is one's output becomes another's input: e.g., dead leaves fall to the ground and get absorbed and broken down by insects, unicellular organisms, and fungi— which become their food and nutrients. As paper and fiber-based materials emanate from nature, I can think of no stronger connection. In what ways will fiber-based materials enable our harmonious future relationship with nature? How can the humble piece of paper, which has inspired and enabled huge civilizations to share histories and transfer information across generations continue to make enormous shifts in our modern society?” 

You can find out more info and submit your entries (by December 1, 2022) here: www.betterwithless.org