Get into the nitty gritty numbers of how much plastic and non-recyclable packaging we plough through collectively, and the results are pretty startling. Over the last 10 years alone, we’ve produced more plastic than throughout the whole of the last century. Half of the plastic we manufacture is single use, meaning it will be used once and thrown away. What’s more, each piece of plastic takes between 500–1,000 years to degrade, which means that right now, every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists.
These are depressing facts, to be sure. However, as the environmental impact of plastics and other non-biodegradable materials is brought under scrutiny by popular documentary series like Blue Planet II, we can see packaging industry trends slowly beginning to shift.
Here are some inspiring examples of what intelligent, ethical packaging can look like when it’s designed to promote the greater good.
In the UK alone, 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups are used and thrown away each year. That’s enough to stretch around the world 5.5 times. Bringing a reusable cup with you when you visit your favourite coffee shop is a great way to reduce the number of single-use lids and plastic-lined cups that you get through every week.
JOCO Cups is a reusable glass coffee cup brand selling ‘clear cups with an even clearer conscience’. In addition to simple and stylish branding, JOCO is at its heart an ethically minded company whose aim is to reduce preventable waste. This includes their product packaging – a recyclable custom-made cardboard canister that’s posted like a standard mailing tube. There are even helpful suggestions for ways to reuse the canisters printed under the lid.
According to ConservingNow, we only recycle one plastic bag in every 200 we use, on average. Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, with the average American family accumulating 60 over the course of just 4 trips to the supermarket. In summary: plastic bags have got to go.
The EcoBag on Behance takes a different approach to transporting your goods from shop to home. A series of paper bags adorned with beautiful botanical illustrations, they quickly disintegrate once thrown away and exposed to rainfall. But here’s the most wonderful thing about the EcoBag – each bag contains a mixture of various plant seeds, such as grass, camomile and clover, which will begin to sprout wherever the bag ends up.
Now that’s nature-friendly garbage.
The Innocent Big Knit
Most of us in the UK are familiar with the drinks company Innocent Smoothies. In 2003, the company started a campaign that became known as The Big Knit, aimed at combating loneliness and helping older people to stay warm in winter. The campaign involved people knitting little woolly hats to go on smoothies, and for each one sold, 25p was donated to Age UK. The idea really captured the public’s imagination, and the campaign eventually raised more than £2 million for the charity.
Loneliness is a pervasive problem, particularly in later life. It increases the risk of death and negatively impacts both physical and mental health. 1.9 million older people in the UK say they often feel ignored or invisible. Age UK centres bring these people together for lunches, classes and group activities, helping to reduce loneliness and isolation.
That’s something we can all feel warm and fuzzy about.
The outcome of a particularly enterprising school project, the PolarAid kit is the first ever sustainable first aid kit aimed at children. The cute and simple bear design puts a friendly face on a typically upsetting or stressful scenario for kids. Though it may be compact, the kit contains plenty of useful first aid items, including plasters, antibiotic ointment, gauze, medical tape, bandages and alcohol swabs.
So it’s a great product, but there’s more to it than that. Not only is the polar bear box reusable, recyclable and manufactured with eco-friendly glue and water-based ink, but all of the proceeds are donated to Polar Bears International, a non-profit polar bear conservation organization.
The Rag Bag
Swedish menswear brand Uniforms For The Dedicated is a company committed to making fashion more sustainable. In doing so, they worked together with DDB Stockholm to create the Rag Bag: a shopping delivery bag that encourages customers to recycle their old clothes.
Here’s how it works: new items arrive inside a Rag Bag. Once removed, you turn the bag inside out, and place any old items you no longer wear inside. To seal the bag, you just remove the strip and fold down the top. You now have a fully sealed, pre-paid package ready to return in the post.
The best thing is this bag is available to any brand – not just Uniforms For The Dedicated. With just a small modification, product packaging can transform from a throwaway casing to a fundamental catalyst that might just help change our disposable clothing culture for the better.
Who Gives a Crap
And last, but not least, we have Who Gives a Crap – the feel-good loo paper company that donates 50% of its profits towards building toilets in the developing world. According to their estimates, ‘every roll of Who Gives A Crap provides someone with access to a toilet for about one week’. It is, in essence, toilet paper that builds toilets.
At first glance, the idea of 100% recycled toilet paper might sound repulsive. But it’s not quite what it sounds – this simply means recycled materials. The truth is, we shouldn’t still be cutting down fresh trees to produce what can easily be made from second-hand paper and bamboo, without any artificial inks, dyes or scents.
The innovative online brand, powered by Shopify, wraps each of its rolls in pretty paper packaging, instead of opting for plastic. To offset the extra paper usage, they ‘trim about 1mm off of each sheet of toilet paper’ – a barely perceptible difference that keeps material wastage to a minimum.
Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she covers developments in the world of marketing, branding, and ecommerce. She is passionate about environmental issues and helping store owners make the most of their businesses.