There are a lot of different considerations when it comes to packaging design. One big one is ecological impact – and it affects packaging in a number of different ways. This can include choice of material. Is it recycled (or easily recyclable)? Is it from a sustainable source? Is it biodegradable? Is the material a by-product or formerly unusable? Can you use something that reduces waste entirely, such as edible materials?
Then there’s the design itself. Perhaps it doesn’t use the most environmentally friendly materials, but the design minimises the amount of packaging used. This can help minimise weight and size for transportation, therefore reducing emissions. Or can the packaging be used to another secondary purpose therefore extending its lifespan and minimising waste?
We take a look at 10 top packaging design ideas that have ecological benefits:
- Preserve travel case
Preserve has plenty of strong environmental credentials from the recycled nature of the plastic used in its toothbrush handles, to the recycling scheme it operates for the return of its products. This extends to the packaging of its products. Rather than creating packaging to just be thrown away, Preserve toothbrushes come in a case that can be reused when travelling. It’s a simple, but effective example of how packaging can have an extended lifespan if it’s designed in the right way.
- Seed Phytonutrients paper bottles
For its new upcoming hair and beauty product range Seed Phytonutrients, L’Oreal has turned to ecological packaging producer Ecologic to design a new environmentally friendly cardboard bottle. Made using recycled paper and carboard, the bottle is water resistant thanks to the use of clay, which means it can be used in the shower.
The interlocking design needs no glue, and the interior liner (which contains the product) is made of thin recycled plastic. The bottle design also reduces on transport costs, not only by being lighter, but also because it can be shipped nested and assembled at the other end. It shows that even familiar packaging, like plastic bottles, can be reinvented.
- Lush bath melts container
Cosmetics company Lush has long led the way when it comes to environmentally friendly packaging designs. In fact, many of its products can be purchased without any packaging at all. While this is great for reducing waste, the company recognised that sometimes those products need to be put in some sort of packaging for transport to the customer’s home – such as its range of solid bath oils.
Its new bath oil box looks like a combination between a fast food burger container and an egg box. Unlike those though, this packaging is made out of recycled coffee cups. It can be recycled through household schemes and is full biodegradable. It’s an example of how a brand can design packaging that fits with its ethos, by being creative with materials.
- Plaine Products refill subscription service
Plaine Products has designed its range of hair and body products to reduce its plastic use. The company uses stylish aluminium tubes to package its products, which makes it easy for them to be reused. The packaging also feeds directly into the company’s refill subscription service.
Customers sign-up to receive refills at the frequency they need. When they arrive, they swap the pump over from the empty bottle to the new one, and re-use the delivery packaging to send their old bottle back to be reused. By investing in a robust packaging design, the company is able to reduce the amount of single-use products and delivery packaging it uses.
Exceeding its Kickstarter goal by more than five times, Australian start-up Huskee uses coffee husks to make cups and saucers. A clever use of a by-product of the huge global coffee business, the cups have a simple design, but the material helps to retain heat for longer.
They’re also surprisingly durable with the ability to last for years and the ability to resist cracks and chips. They can even be put in the dishwasher making them an option for commercial and domestic use. The design is well-thought out with the cups able to be stacked, and all sizes work with the same travel lid and saucer. With millions of disposable coffee cups thrown out every year, HuskeeCup is a great design solution for a big waste problem.
- Puma’s Clever Little Bag
Sometimes older ideas are still to be topped. A few years ago Puma teamed up with designer Yves Béhar and Fuse Project to create a more sustainable packaging solution than the traditional shoebox. The shoes were packaged in a cardboard shell which then went straight into a reusable fabric shoe bag. Given the focus on reducing plastic carrier bag usage today, this idea was ahead of its time by making the carrying mechanism part of the product design. And without any plastic in sight.
- True Organic of Sweden sugarcane tubes
True Organic of Sweden is another organic skincare brand which is trying to make its packaging’s ecological credentials match up to what’s on the inside. Although they look and feel like regular plastic, the tubes housing some of True Organic’s products are made of sugarcane.
The packaging is made of 100% renewable materials, but also helps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide used in the manufacturing process thanks to the fact that the sugarcane absorbs it while growing. It shows how great steps can be made in packaging design, without impacting how the product is presented to the end customer.
- Sulapac biodegradable ‘wood-plastic’ packaging
Finnish company Sulapac is also looking at ways to reduce the amount of plastic used in packaging. Fully biodegradable, its solution uses wood to create a material that acts like plastic. It can be mass-produced, coloured and injection moulded, enabling designers to shape it in different ways for different products. So far it’s been used for jewellery, beauty and bath packaging. This is an example of a ecologically-friendly material where designers can have the same flexibility as they would with traditional plastics.
- Saltwater Brewery edible six-pack
The amount of plastic in our oceans is one of the big drivers behind the packaging industry’s efforts to reduce the use of it as a material. Animals are dying through eating or getting stuck in this plastic, with plastic six-pack rings one of the biggest culprits.
With this in mind, Saltwater Brewery is using the waste products from the brewing process, such as barley and wheat left-overs, to make edible six-pack rings. They’re completely biodegradable and safe to eat should an animal make a meal of them. Not only is it a great example of using a bit of initiative to change traditional design, but it’s also making use of materials that would normally just be thrown away.
- Mel Millis giftboxes
Some of the biggest sustainable packaging challenges can be around gifting. Customers want the packaging to be beautiful, but the materials don’t always lend itself to that. Skincare brand Mel Millis uses natural, plant-based ingredients in its products, and manages to carry that same eco-friendly feel over to its gift packaging.
The company uses high quality recycled paper to create elegant boxes that are completely biodegradable. As an added bonus the paper is impregnated with wild flower seeds, so customers can plant it if they want to grow beautiful flowers – making it a gift that keeps on giving.
Which did you find most interesting? Let us know your favourites!
By Cate Trotter, Head of Trends, Insider Trends, London.