As I opened my new set of headphones, I kept thinking, “They must not really want me to use this product.” Why else would they make it so hard to open? And, as an eco-conscious person, how would all this plastic damage the planet? My brain went from my garbage can to the landfill to the ocean and some poor fish trapped in plastic hell. After some research, I found that according to 2010 EPA statistics, packaging accounted for 30% – and 76 million tons – of our total waste for the year. There must be a better way.
Searching for better options, I found Beats by Dr. Dre, a popular and relatively new line of headphones designed by the famed rapper and producer himself, are packaged much more lightly. The box is made from cardboard, not plastic, and cool graphic designs on each side make the packaging just as appealing as the ones I was wrestling with, but are recyclable.
Packaging has become lighter and more efficient in recent years, though I still find myself wrestling with skin-slicing plastic clamshells way too often.
Farhad Manjoo was fighting the same battle and wrote about it in Slate. Called “A Christmas Miracle: Packaging Is Less Infuriating,” published on December 26, 2012, he explains that since 2008, “some of the world’s largest retailers and consumer-product companies have launched initiatives to improve how their goods are boxed.” Included in these companies, he adds, are Amazon.com and Walmart, who are taking action to eliminate “a billion feet of wire twists ties from…toys” as well as “excess packaging materials such as hard clamshell casings [and] plastic bindings.” But while Manjoo praises these companies for their redesigned packaging, he also cites Logitech, BodyMedia, and Apple products as some of the most difficult to open. For example, he says that consumers will “need a hammer to crack open the hard plastic box,” of Apple’s new Earpod headphones.
Apple Reveals Its Footprint
Apple? Why would such a cutting edge company fail to use environmentally conscious packaging standards? Adam Lashinsky’s 2012 book Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired – and Secretive – Company Really Works, paints a hilarious picture reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live skit: “A packaging designer was holed up in this room performing the most mundane of tasks – opening boxes.” He also writes about countless iPod box prototypes that were tested to determine the emotional response the customer feels opening the product. Can you imagine recording the choice words you uttered as you tackled that nasty thick plastic?
Steve Jobs – a.k.a. “design guru” – focused on the look, feel and use of the sleek Apple designs, not their impact on the environment.
But with “eco” top of the mind for much of Apples’s top market, they have posted “The Story Behind Apple’s Environmental Footprint,” an intentionally revealing breakdown of their carbon footprint, from “Manufacturing” to “Facilities.” Under the category of “Transportation,” the packaging question is addressed: “Apple employs teams of design and engineering experts who develop product packaging that’s slim and light yet protective. Efficient packaging design not only reduces materials and waste, it also helps reduce the emissions produced during transportation.” And in terms of the big picture, the site also reports that a mere 5% of Apple’s carbon footprint comes from transportation: an umbrella category including, but not limited to, packaging. Considering they are shipped from the far east, I’m skeptical…
Valentine’s Day Goes Green
The most romantic holiday of the year just became much more eco-friendly, as British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) launched a new initiative this Valentine’s Day to save 10,000 liters of water from flower deliveries. The company is using a new process called Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), which “seals flowers in an airtight bag, slowing down their respiration rate and allowing them to be transported without requiring water.” M&S, based out of the United Kingdom, delivers to 80 international locations – many of which are quite far away – so the amount of the water saved will have a considerably positive effect on their carbon footprint.
A slew of other products are now being re-packaged as part of the Disappearing Package Project, spearheaded by designer Aaron Mickelson. This article from Tested.com gives one example of his clever new packaging designs, explaining: “Glad trash bags normally come in a box, which Mickelson’s site says adds up to 68 pounds of garbage per pallet. In Mickelson’s design, the bags are rolled together and can be pulled out from the center one-by-one…No box required.” In addition to his Glad bag design, he has created revamped packaging for Tide detergent bars, Twinings tea, and – my personal favorite – Nivea bar soap. The box washes away when you take it into the shower, leaving no garbage.
Perhaps more companies or designers will adopt similar projects. In the meantime, it appears that products and their packaging have both become more eco-friendly, but not fast enough or eco-friendly enough. Maybe we need to demand it more and louder? Could the end of needing to wear gloves to open your new gadgets be near? Let’s hope. The landfills will thank us.
Photos courtesy of flowermuse.com, digitalstreetsa.com, designer-daily.com and ops.org