TIP No. 3 – Plastic Free Packaging Series
Have you ever wondered, what happened to the ‘milkman’?
Join me for a walk down memory lane and let’s take a quick look at beverage packaging before the dreaded plastic milk jug and water bottle.
It wasn’t too long ago (less than 100 years) when packaging was valued for its materials and part of a more regenerative system. You could even call it a “circular economy”, because it very much was.
Packaging was expensive to make. As a result, people and businesses cared about preserving it by washing, returning and reusing containers. A great example is the classic glass milk bottle which was home-delivered and returned to be refilled and reused time and time again.
In the 1940’s, mass production and plastic packaging was born. Being cheaper and lighter than glass or tin, plastic packaging was a more profitable option for brand owners and changed the way we bought and consumed products.
What was a circular economy, quickly morphed into a wasteful one. Our landfills began to pile up creating the global plastic waste problem we face today.
“The average Aussie drinks 30L of bottled water each year and about 60% were sold in single-serve bottles. Plastic water bottles take anywhere from 400 to 1000 years to break down and are the ten most common rubbish items picked up on Clean up Australia Day.”
– Sydney Water –
So, how do we turn the clock back to the idyllic pre-plastic packaging era?
It is a complex problem with a complex solution. Designing smarter packaging is only part of the answer. We need governments, businesses and consumers to all have an active part in the solution.
But, I digress, let’s start by looking at materials that worked before the plastic bottle:
1) Glass Bring back milk delivery! Screams every WFH parent like me with milk-guzzling toddlers. Imagine a system where all common beverages are sold in glass containers with a rinse and return for a deposit system. I’d be down with that!
2) Recyclable Paper Cartons Did you know that the first milk carton created by Pure-Pak was recyclable? Today cartons are generally made from a combination of materials (plastic, metal and paper) that makes them non-recyclable.
3) Aluminum Cans Aluminium is infinitely recyclable and makes a great eco-friendly option for portable single serve beverages. It is currently widely used for beer and soft drinks, so why not water and juice?
For more eco-friendly packaging ideas we can also look forward at new innovations in renewable materials:
1) Paper Bottles Yes, you heard that right! Pulpex is the first to create a PET-free, pulp based bottle made from renewable feedstocks and responsibly managed forests. The inside of the packaging is spray lined with something that makes it waterproof and is ideal for liquids. Big brands like Unilever are already prototyping this packaging which is very exciting!
2) Biodegradable Bottles There are a variety of innovations happening in the bio plastic space all of which can be a both confusing and controversial but plant-based 100% compostable plastic bottles offer a great alternative to the conventional plastic bottle. Its Not Plastic Co. is one of the leaders in this space.
3) Compostable Beer Ring Holders Another great innovation in the beverage packaging scene is, plastic-free alternatives for beer-ring holders. BioPak has one called the BioCane Beer Ring Holder which is made from reclaimed sugarcane pulp and is home compostable and recyclable. I can definitely cheers to that!
Designing plastic-free packaging is only part of the solution. Brand owners also need to consider what happens to their packaging once it is no longer needed and inform consumers how to properly dispose of it. The last and probably most important part of the system is to develop the infrastructure that can effectively collect and repurpose these packaging materials.
“Instead of simply setting out to change what we produce and consume through design, we must strive to also change the way we participate in the product economy.”
– Tom Szaky, The future of Packaging –
As a sustainable brand and packaging designer, I want to make it easy for more brands make their packaging less wasteful. I hope these tips help get you started thinking more sustainably. Get in touch to learn more!