These days, any designer worth his or her salt is grappling with ideas of waste and sustainability, trying to come up with ways to do more with less.
These days, any designer worth his or her salt is grappling with ideas of waste and sustainability, trying to come up with ways to do more with less. This is especially pressing in the realm of product packaging: According to the EPA, Americans alone throw away some 70 million tons of boxes, bags, containers, and inserts each year. It’s a staggering statistic, and any place where we can cut back will help stem the tide. But Aaron Mickelsonhas a more radical idea. Why not get rid of packaging completely?
That lofty ambition served as the basis for Mickelson’s thesis project at Pratt Institute last semester, where the designer earned his masters in package design. The project, which Mickelson dubs "The Disappearing Package," shows zero-waste solutions for five different products, from trash bags to shower soap. And the craziest part of it all is that the designs really aren’t that crazy.
Most of the solutions stem from streamlining the packages of products that are, in some way, packages themselves--or are products that already include many individually packaged parts. Tide Pods, for example, are single-use detergent pouches typically sold in a plastic jug or stand-up bag. Mickelson’s proposal is a simple one: Arrange the pods in a single, perforated sheet; print on them directly with soap-soluble ink; and roll them up into a tight cylinder for grocery store shelves. At home, customers would simply tear off one pod at a time, as needed, until the last one was used, taking the last traces of the product to the washing machine along with it. Mickelson’s idea for tea bags is similarly elegant--instead of putting all the individual, wax-sealed packets in a tin or cardboard box, simply attach them together accordion-style and let the customer tear off one at a time.
The designer’s proposal for Glad trash bags seems even more feasible--and perhaps even a bit more clever. The idea is to roll up the bags into a self-contained tube, with the product information printed directly on the outside bag. But the best part is that customers draw bags not from the outside of the roll but from the inside, Kleenex-style, which dispenses one bag at a time while keeping the rest in one tidy unit. Not only does the design eliminate the need for the superfluous cardboard box but it also adds a bit of quick-grab usability as well. Reducing waste is worthwhile enough; the added utility is just a victory lap.