by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Good packaging design is probably the answer to eliminating packaging waste.
In Japan products bought are, in many stores, wrapped up in reusable cloth wraps more often than not – eliminating the plastic carrier – and other things come in reusable, often wooden, boxes – especially gift products – that can and will be used for a variety of purposes afterwards.
It is true that even in Japan not every item of packaging is designed in such a way but the multitude of existing examples can and must be used as a guide to develop packaging design further in such a way that each and every piece is either reusable, with an obvious reuse, or compostable (at home). Recyclability should only be considered if other options are out of the question.
Wooden cigar boxes were, in Europe and elsewhere, once sought after for reuse and for materials from which to make other things, such as fretwork picture frames, and are a good example of good packaging design. The same must be said for the once sturdy orange and apple crates and wine boxes, both of which were and are used from which to make a variety of things by those with the right mindset.
Plastic, aside from the use and toss grocery bags that should be designed to history, accounts for the largest quantity of packaging waste, last almost for ever but is designed to be thrown away. It is here where reuse design could come very much into its own by creating – if it has to be plastic at all – any plastic packaging with a direct and obvious reuse in mind.
It is possible, no two ways about it, and with simply applying one's mind reuse can be found. Good design, however, can lead the way even more towards eliminating plastic and other packaging waste by creating packaging, when packaging is needed, and often it is not, in such a way that a second use for the packaging is immediately obvious to everyone.
While our ancestors could see the reuse potential in many items of packaging that people today see only as waste. This skill and mindset has today gotten almost entirely lost among most people, with the exception of a few, reuse indications and instructions may be required and especially a second use of packaging made obvious without the need to actually think as to what it could be reused.
It can be done of that I have no doubt and we, the people, as consumers, must pressure companies and designers to create packaging in this and other sustainable ways.
Where packaging is a must – if there is such a thing – and a reuse cannot be designed in, though I doubt that there are many of this kind if designers but think the right thoughts and have the right kind of ideas, then the packaging to use must be of natural sources such as plain paper and card, wood or other natural materials. Biodegradable plastic does not cut the ice here as it is still plastic and very rarely does biodegradable equal breaking down harmlessly in the environment, such as by way of composting (in a domestic compost heap) and that includes so-called compostable plastic. It is not compostable in a domestic compost heap and not even a domestic composter. It requires hot composting and the same goes for “compostable” grocery bags and similar. But a hot composting with temperatures that even a backyard hot composting system – which is possible – cannot reach. So, only possible in commercial operations.