From Throw Away to a Better Way
Over half of all plastic is designed to only be used once, and only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, the majority accumulated in landfills or the environment. A crying waste for a material designed to last a lifetime.
The environmental cost of disposability is weighing heavily upon us, so it’s no surprise brands and retail partners alike are working towards how we rethink current wasteful systems. All the signs are pointing towards a circular economy where, together, we can design out waste and pollution, give back more than we take from nature and keep materials in use for as long as possible.
As awareness grows and brands pivot towards alternative business models, experiences and materials, we explore how design is transitioning from throw-away to a better way.
Getting Back to Basics
In a world built on ‘more’, a lot can be achieved by thinking ‘less’, particularly when we’re designing to overcome packaging waste. Brands are looking at opportunities to design-in sustainability with recyclable mono materials, increased recycled content, removing unnecessary packaging or going one step further to shift behaviours away from single-use.
Ritter Sport and Kelloggs are tackling problematic and hard to recycle plastics through material innovation. Both have shifted to paper-based packaging in a bid to work towards achieving their sustainability targets.
Going one step further, Corona is innovating in order to find more sustainable, circular technologies to virgin paper. Their new six packs use surplus barley straw to create a sturdy, sustainable paper packaging solution which removes the use of virgin raw material and uses less energy and 90% less water vs virgin paper pulping. To top things off, the new packs behave just like paper when recycled.
Meanwhile Halopack are combating famously hard-to-recycle ready made meal packaging. Launching recently down under in Australia with Dineamic, they use sustainably sourced materials (70% recycled content and 30% FSC cardboard) with a lightweight structural design that enables people to easily separate the recyclable film from the cardboard tray, bringing a considered approach to ready-made meals.
Finally, we’re also seeing some much needed innovation from high in the sky. In a pre-covid travel world, it’s estimated global passenger flights created 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste, with a large volume being single-use plastics. The ‘Get Onboard: Reduce. Reuse. Rethink.' project has designed reusable trays made from coffee grounds as well as edible or fully compostable tableware made from an array of natural ingredients like bran, banana leaves, rice husks and algae. A treat for the eyes and the taste buds!
But beyond the material itself, the greater opportunities lie in looking across the whole packaging value chain to identify waste and pollution - be it manufacturing emissions or excessive material use.
Discarded Spirits do just this, living up to their name through both product and packaging. Their range of spirits made from discarded food have recently relaunched in fully recyclable packaging. Continuing to show ‘waste’ is simply a lack of imagination, their new range features caps made from recycled tin, labels made from sugarcane waste and bottles which contain a minimum of 65% recycled glass content. To put the olive on top of the martini, during London Cocktail Week, they hosted ‘The Most Rubbish Bar’ which transformed so-called ‘waste’ into luxurious cocktail experiences with the help of the world’s best bartenders.
Collaborate to Compete
In our race to regenerate, future-focused brands and retailers are not afraid to go arm in arm to fight the war on waste. We’re seeing more brands come together in order to realise their sustainability goals, share responsibilities and inspire change.
Take the social enterprise Toast Ale, a beer that does ‘a world of good’. Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, so these beer activists are on a mission to fight it from brand communication to product formulation. By partnering with major food producers to replace barley with surplus bread they have saved nearly 2.5 million slices of bread. Not content with combating food waste through just the core range, their Companion Series brings together 25 competitor breweries to raise money for regenerative agriculture, while their Collaboration Beers took Warburtons wonky crumpets and turned them into ‘un-beer-lievably’ light and refreshing beer.
It’s safe to say scaling this kind of collaboration is no easy feat, but it’s essential if we’re to curb climate change and tackle waste head on. Asda and Unilever are currently working together to find ways of bringing refill to the mainstream. They recently found 89% of UK shoppers are likely to buy a product because its packaging can be reused. Unlocking the potential of reuse requires key design considerations to shift mindsets in how we shop, build brand trust and maintain or improve product experiences. So it’s great to see some of Unilever's best-known UK brands such as Radox and Persil trialing a number of packaging designs, refill models, store formats, communication strategies and shopper experiences to pave the way for reuse at scale.
Sign Me Up
Out of store, subscription models are providing more opportunities to create a truly circular economy. It’s estimated 64% of shoppers feel more connected to companies with whom they have a direct subscription. A surgence in brands adopting subscription models are building progressive communities and ongoing loyalty while exploring ways to shift from ownership to accessibility and reduce material consumption as they go.
The Loop reuse platform has gained momentum around the world taking its successes from retail and grocery packaging into fast food. Collaborating with McDonald's, Loop created a hot drinks reusable cup scheme where, for a small deposit, people can opt in for a cup that can later be returned and the money reimbursed, thus reducing the footprint for on-the-go packaging. While these models require significant upfront investment, and new modes of distribution, they offer the greatest environmental and cost savings by reusing packaging over multiple cycles. It certainly poses the question ‘why do we put so much emphasis on recyclability, a system built to collect, process and convert waste when we could create systems that circulate valuable products designed to be used time and time again?’
And we mustn’t forget what lies beyond packaging. Creating new paths for how we consume requires bold steps to transform commodities into cause-led brands. The subscription based toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap donates 50% of profits to help build toilets and sanitation in the developing world. Through an everyday consumable, they have changed the rules of brand purpose with social impact and convenience at the heart of their subscription D2C model. The brand identity and communication cuts through any toilet taboos with a playful approach to bring products that are made from recycled or renewable materials to those seeking to make an impact with every purchase.
Reimagine to Regenerate
Overcoming our throw away society cannot be achieved with the same design thinking or business models that created it. With an urgent need to eliminate waste, how can brands rethink packaging to better shape their impact for the future?
Getting Back to Basics
Start to understand the impact and recyclability of your packaging- what materials do you use and where does your greatest impact lie? Removing design complexities will better enable us to ‘close the loop’ on packaging. We’re seeing more progressive brands re-thinking the rules for packaging and adopting reusable systems to tackle waste at the source. What could your route to reuse be?
Collaborate to Compete.
Changing systems and designing out waste cannot be done alone. Together, we have a much greater capacity to innovate creating new opportunities for supply chains. Start to explore your packaging value chain to see who may help you design new opportunities for your packaging and unlock major steps towards our shared sustainability goals.
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Future-focused brands and retailers are considering the realms of access over ownership to shift ‘consumption’ while creating communities for change. What experience are your customers looking for and how may you authentically be able to form a greater connection with them?
If you're looking for brave ways to dismantle the old ways, then let's talk!