Product packaging is a way of life to us, sure, but to most consumers it has no value. Sure it provides safety, convenience, shelf life, but most consumers are blissfully ignorant of these important tasks. Usually consumers throw product packaging away without much thought; thankfully more and more are starting to recycle it, if possible. Everyone knows about recycling. We’ve been doing it since the 1970s, yet there is much more than can be done to reduce waste in our landfills. Recycling is great, but it is time to look into some of the new end of life solutions that are emerging.
Most product packaging has several aspects to it which provide reasons for a product’s life to end. Physical life, functional life, technical life, economical life, legal life, and loss of desirability lead to products being thrown out or recycled. However, instead of looking at these in a negative way, we can look at each “form of life” individually and find ways to extend them.
Heineken, for example, has found an innovative way to upcycle their product packaging, thus extending its life. Heineken’s “World Block” (WOBO) beer bottles have been “designed for reuse.” The beer bottles interlock so that they can be used for building after their initial purpose of containing beer is done. The WOBO bottle extends the beer bottle’s functional life. Though glass can ultimately be recycled, innovative ideas such as this are paving the path towards a future with less “trash.”
However, innovation is not just emerging in the form of reuse and redesign of product packaging, but in the form of a new initial purpose. For as long as we know, packaging is the part of the product that gets thrown away. Now there are several scientists working to create “edible packaging” for products to help eliminate waste. The idea is controversial, and would require our society to adjust its norms about what is and isn’t considered edible.
In addition to the obvious fact that finding new uses for and redesigning product packaging is beneficial to the environment and supports innovation, it can also be good for business. Brand logos are printed all over product packaging, so if it just gets thrown out or recycled, people will no longer see it, and brand equity is lost. Packaging that is redesigned or designed for reuse helps to preserve the brand equity of those products for a little longer. For example, creating pencil cases out used CapriSun drink pouches, like TerraCycle does, provides the brand with a new way of promoting not only the product, but the brand. Why literally throw away your company’s hard work when you can extend the life of your products?
Reduce, reuse, recycle…redesign. Redesign is the fourth “R” of the future when it comes to eliminating waste. Whether it’s redesigning packaging to be completely edible, creating no waste, or finding a way to design product packaging for new purpose and extend its life long term, there is no doubt that we are taking steps towards innovation in the future of waste management.