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The Disappearing Package: From Dissolving Wrappers to Products That Package Themselves

What if packaging wasn't just reduced, but disappeared completely?

Even though sustainable design often aims to make things last longer (cell phones, we're looking at you), the ultimate goal is just to make something last as long as it's needed. In the case of packaging, that's not very long. After a package gets whatever you're buying safely to your home, it's usually not useful anymore, and so 70 million tons of packaging waste ends up in U.S. landfills every year.


What if packaging disappeared after you no longer needed it, or didn't exist at all? That's the inspiration behind package designer Aaron Mickelson's grad thesis project. A lot of designers look at reducing packaging waste, but Mickelson wondered if he could start to eliminate it completely.

In his design, a bar of soap comes in a nontoxic package that can go in the shower; when it gets wet, the package dissolves, and you're left holding only the soap. The paper wrapping can be printed and embossed just like a regular box, but the design is a little different—Mickelson wanted to make sure that people wouldn't absentmindedly tear the package open and throw it out, so he intentionally made it hard to tear.

A design for trash bag packaging brilliantly prints the brand and marketing information on the last bag in a roll, so there's no box at all. The roll of bags doubles as a dispenser.

For a set of food storage containers, Mickelson printed marketing info directly on each one, again eliminating a box or labels. The ink is designed to completely wash off in soapy water.

A group of individual tea packets was designed to hold together in the shape of an accordion, eliminating an outside box and giving the tea company a new place to tell their story in the form of a little book.

Last, for a group of laundry pods (which are already designed with a water-soluble coating), Mickelson designed a package that stitches the individual pods together. Again, no box. When you do your laundry, you just tear off a pod.

All of these ideas are conceptual, and would present some challenges for manufacturers to figure out, but Mickelson points out that they're all well within reach; the technology exists to start creatively eliminating packaging right now.

Go here to ask companies to consider using one of these sustainable design techniques to eliminate waste.

Images courtesy of Aaron Mickelson

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