Sustainability in Packaging Design

Derrick Lin


By Kathryn Goodchild

Consumers are far more environmentally aware these days and while good packaging design is still essential for attracting people to products, consumers now expect that products are packaged in a sustainable way too.

Sustainable Origami Food Box by Michealle Lee

Sustainability has become a buzzword in the packaging industry. Over recent years, the industry has received harsh criticism over the amount of materials used in packaging and the types of materials that has been traditionally used. Consumers are far more environmentally aware these days and while good packaging design is still essential for attracting people to products, consumers now expect that products are packaged in a sustainable way too.

Sustainability is not easy when it comes to packaging. Packaging still has to serve multiple criteria, namely making the products look appealing whilst protecting them to ensure consumers receive their goods in perfect condition. Reducing packaging materials and still adhering to these basic criteria is no easy task, but it is where packaging designers are increasingly expected to excel.

Less is more
Trying to create sustainable packaging often means creating packaging designs that not only use fewer materials, but also still protect the consumables and provide an appealing aesthetic. When it comes to larger products, such as furniture packaging, this can be fairly easy. It has often been the case that items such as furniture have been over-packaged, with protective filling and excessive materials used to maintain protection. It is therefore possible to strip away some of these materials with clever packaging design and still maintain the same level of protection. However, for smaller consumables, there is less wiggle room and any reduction of materials is going to require some clever and innovative design.

Kraft Cheese Package

There have been some great examples recently of how clever package design has helped reduce the amount of the materials, especially in the food packaging industry. One company that has led the way is Kraft, which has achieved some pretty remarkable results. Their Oscar Mayer Deli Creations product, for instance, now uses 30 percent less paperboard thanks to some clever design, a reduction that equates to 1.2 million Ibs of packaging each year. By reducing the number or layers in their Milka chocolate bar, Kraft also managed a 60 percent reduction in the packaging weight of their popular European confectionery, and the introduction of a clever zipper system in their Natural Cheese packages, has eliminated more than 1 million Ibs of packaging a year.

By stating these reductions on their packaging design, Kraft have even noticed an upturn in sales due to the keenness of consumers for more sustainable packaging, which has led to more and more food manufacturers following Kraft’s lead and coming up with their own sustainable packaging designs. Designers have also reduce packaging materials by thinking about the entire logistical process of products, and found ways of providing shelf-ready packaging that is also able to provide protection during transit, reducing the need for additional packaging solely for delivering the goods.

The Ebay Box designed by Office

Environmentally friendly materials
When reduction in materials is simply not possible, designers can still improve the sustainability of packaging by the choice of materials they use. While for many years plastic has been the material of choice for packaging designers, consumers are now becoming increasingly averse to the use of plastics and other non-biodegradable materials. Using recycled and recyclable materials is one way packaging designers can provide sustainable credentials to consumers. Recycled paper and cardboard can often be implemented in many designs where plastic was formerly used. While for larger items, reclaimed timber or wood from managed sources is far more sustainable than timber from unknown sources.

For products where there really is no alternative but to use a non-biodegradable product such as plastic, designers can still find ways of improving sustainability, such as avoiding different material combinations so packaging can be more easily recycled, so for example, using the same plastic for a lid that is used for the body of a bottle.

Cost of sustainability
Sustainability can prove a challenge for packaging designers but it is not without its benefits. For one thing, sustainability is something that consumers are hankering for, so a well-designed packaging solution can help improve sales. Furthermore, as much of sustainability is about using fewer materials, there are cost savings to be had, as less money needs to be spent on packaging materials. Of course, retooling for new packaging may require some outlay, but this will be a one-off investment and the savings made in materials should easily pay for such changes.

Sustainability is not a fleeting design fad, it is going to be more and more relevant in the packaging industry, and those designers that can up with clever and innovative solutions to reduce packaging and implement more environmentally friendly materials, are going to be those designers who will be the most successful in the future.

About the author
Kathryn Goodchild is a full-time as a professional writer and researcher for five years.