Packaging Waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The greatest scourge, as far as waste is concerned and the amount of it, is packaging waste and much of it, because of the way that it is made – the packaging, not the waste – is also not recyclable.

MW DDR TaschenmesserSimple East German packaging (in this case for a pocketknife)

Industry is over-packaging almost everything that is put onto the market for us to buy and often it is a question of why in the mind of any normal and rational thinking person.

One of my favorite example are the replacement brushes for the Braun electric toothbrush. Each brush is individually encased in a plastic bubble with paper backing and the two or four little brushes are then encased in a hard plastic bubble that it is huge in comparison to the two or four small brushes. Waste of resources for starters and then, well, waste.

The packages are that size, so I have been told, so that – one – people, shoppers, can see them and – two – so they cannot be stolen easily.

Now, if I want and need those replacement brushes I buy them regardless of packaging size yelling at me “I am here” and a simple cardboard box would do equally well, as it was done some fifty or so years ago. And we can especially learn as regards to packaging and reduction of waste of same from the minimal packaging that was used in places such as the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

There have been, over the years, attempts by makers of some products to encourage reuse of the packaging, noticeable some mustards, Nutella and also Classico pasta sauces, in that the jars were made as reusable drinking glasses or, as in the case of Classico sauces where real Atlas Mason canning jars are used, which can be reused for canning by just buying the replacement rims and lids. And, to some extent this is still happening today. It is with the Classico sauces and also some mustards.

Good packaging design, however, could contribute greatly to a reduction in packaging waste generated if it would be – the packaging, not the waste – be conceived with a second use in mind and this reuse be obvious.

Another design alternative is where, as has been done with a media center some time back, the packaging becomes the stand for it or, as in the case of a recently unveiled new computer printer where the packaging becomes the case. It can be done and is not really rocket science.

Designing packaging with reuse and second use in mind (and instructions as to how to reuse the packaging incorporated) is not – or should not be – difficult as can be seen with regards to what has been done before.

On the other hand, as far as glass bottles (and glass jars) are concerned commercial reuse, not recycling by breaking up the containers, with a deposit scheme should be reintroduced and no, it does not, as is being claimed time and again by “our” politicians unwilling to do it, require pilot projects and lengthy studies. It does work and has worked before and yes, even in Britain. We only have not done it for decades now.

However, glass bottles and glass jars are but a small section of packaging waste. A far greater amount is made up by cardboard and plastic and here is where reuse design of packaging especially comes in and into its own.

Also here it can be done and some manufacturers of sweets already make mention on their “tins”, whether they be of actual tin or of plastic, that the packaging can be reused and how.

If designers could, together with their clients in industry, create containers and other packaging that “automatically” have an obvious second use our problem with all that stuff going into landfill might get solved somewhat.

This will, however, impact on other sales and the economy if people having packaging that they can reuse for something that they otherwise would have to buy and this may upset the “we have to grow the economy” brigade. But so be it! It is the Planet that is more important that the perpetual growth economy which is not sustainable and will destroy us all if we allow it to.

© 2013