We were invited to speak about sustainable packaging design at Stellenbosch Academy. Our discussion was around considering the environmental footprint of your design.
Cost has always been such an important factor of design. Keeping costs down to remain competitive is very important. The problem is that this often results in the cost of the product being transferred elsewhere, often as a cost to the environment in terms of pollution and over intensive resource use and can also often lead to the exploitation of people. A sustainable design should not transfer financial or other costs including the costs of disposal onto the environment or people.
It’s important to consider this in terms of packaging. Packaging that does not biodegrade is made because it is cheap, which is a benefit to the supplier and results in a cheaper product to the consumer. Discarding the packaging becomes the cost of municipalities who have to find somewhere to put all the used packaging that will not biodegrade. This cost is covered by taxes. A consumer may think they are getting a good deal on a cheaper product but they are paying elsewhere. Add to this, the cost of a polluted environment on wildlife and ecosystems, and to our ability to produce clean and wholesome food, our health and the beauty of our surroundings.
What can be considered in the sustainability of packaging and design?
- The purpose of the packaging: Some packaging is designed to look bigger or to offer convenient small portions. Is this sustainable? Packaging for food needs to meets certain requirements of being heat proof, oil and water resistant etc.
- Raw materials: Are they sustainable? Are they natural? What raw materials are environmentally friendly and which ones cause harm? What is the cost of replacing the raw materials? How long does it take to replace them?
- Manufacture Process: The process of manufacture and minimising the waste produced in the process of manufacture is discussed in this article.
- Product & Packaging Lifecycle: How long will it be used for? Is it reusable? What about recyclable? Will it biodegrade? Will discarding the packaging cause pollution in the environment?