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Packaging's got game with the kids

Can packaging reclamation and end-of-life responsibility really be something fun that can engage younger generations?


Packaging is vital and important to the consumer economy on many levels: it ensures safety of a product, freshness of a product, and of course represents the brand itself. You and I have built our careers around making packaging lighter, sturdier, more sustainable, and, well, just better.

Now more than ever, packaging is in the spotlight thanks to everything from noisy chip bags to water bottles made from plants. Despite all of that, no kids say they want to grow up and become a packaging scientist. At least none I know.

Packaging science is vital to recycling and upcycling, and protecting the environment from our waste and overuse of natural resources. We both now how important packaging is, the question is how to keep it evolving. TerraCycle is out to reach people of all ages — not just those interested in packaging — and that means reaching kids as well and raising their interest in the importance of packaging. This is where our latest venture, Trash Tycoon, comes in to the picture.

Trash Tycoon is the brain-child of the Social Game start-up GuerillApps, who designed the cutting edge game with TerraCycle’s real life upcycling and recycling programs in mind. Through the game, and in the privacy our their own homes, kids (and parents) can learn about how TerraCycle’s Brigade programs work, and what happens to trash after it’s collected and sent to TerraCycle.

In the game, players clean houses and town buildings such as a library, a school and a town hall. Players also build factories, which upcycle and recycle the collected trash and include a worm farm, glass smelter, plastic extruder, injection molder, paper recycler and greenhouse. Imagine a Facebook game that is trying to push words like extruder and molder into a teenager’s vernacular! Each product to make lists the materials needed to produce it (such as plastic trash, paper trash or fertilizer), which are the same materials that TerraCycle uses in real life.

The products that the game produces are the same TerraCycle products on the shelves in our showroom and on our website: upcycled lunchboxes, flower pots and tree spikes. When players start making these products, they can get an idea of what it takes to make these things in real life, and how they can be made from trash that we produce every day.

TerraCycle’s Brigade participants can glean extra points in the game for the trash they collect in real life, which helps them make the connections between the packaging they collect and how it’s recycled. If we want kids and teenagers to understand how the processes work and pique their interest, we need to reach out to them in a manner that they’ll understand and be interested in.

Until kids understand how packaging affects every day life and trash the way we, who make packaging our business, do, they won’t be able to understand the importance of recycling and gain an interest in it.

The term “gamification” has become popular amongst brand managers and marketing directors. Using games to educate and engage consumers is become more and more popular. But is such a pop culture phenomenon suitable for application in the packaging industry? I’m betting the answer is yes.

It’s our job to highlight the importance of packaging in a way that engages the younger crowds. Would you let your kids play this game? What other methods do you think are effective in reaching a younger audience? Does gamifaction have a place in the packaging industry?

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