Is waste-free packaging possible?

| April 24, 2014

Landfills are clogged with empty packaging — 140 billion pounds of it per year. (Yikes.)

From bottled water to food to cleaning products and beyond, it seems like everything we touch comes from a package. Most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about packaging unless the packing for a particular item uses an egregiously wasteful amount of material.

But for one intrepid designer, any amount of extraneous packaging is too much. Aaron Mickelson is on a mission to create self-enclosed products that don’t require containers. If Mickelson has his way, when we finish with a product, there won’t be any evidence left over. Now that’s thinking green.

From Austin Kirk.

Mickelson redesigned the packaging for these laundry detergent pods to create zero waste. From Austin Kirk.

Mickelson’s effort started as a master’s design thesis at the Pratt Institute. His thesis was called “The Disappearing Package.” Kristin Hohenadel from Slate reported on Mickelson’s thesis, for which he gave “leading household products clever and radical eco-friendly makeovers that eliminated packaging altogether.”

The products: Tide PODS (for laundry), Twinings tea, Glad kitchen bags, and Nivea soap.

One major challenge of eliminating packaging: every product is different, and every package is different. That means there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so Mickelson’s designs were distinct for each product. For the Tide PODS, he stitched individual pods together like a quilt and printed the branding across all of them. When the last pod is used, nothing is left behind.

He created wax-lined Twinings tea bags stitched together like an accordion. They do have a wrapper, but the wrapper serves as the hanging tag. They don’t need storage boxes, because the wax lining keeps the tea fresh.

For Glad, he took a traditional roll of trash bags and used the outermost bag as the container. He printed branding information on that bag, so the product stays branded until the very end.

The soap box he designed for Nivea is water-soluble, so it dissolves when you wish to use it.

Though Mickelson’s work started as a thesis, it has attracted attention far beyond the boundaries of academia. He has been approached by companies interested in exploring his ideas, though as of this moment, no one has taken the leap to actually developing products based on his work. As Hohenadel reports, “trying to develop disappearing packaging in the real world has taught [Mickelson] a thing or two about the chasm between a good idea and a workable solution.”

Mickelson is going to keep at it. He has received ample mainstream media coverage and is confident that there’s a marketable future for his ideas. Now he just needs a progressive company to explore that future with him.

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About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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