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Slam #1: *Commercial* Food Packaging

Postby abby » January 11th, 2005, 11:21 am

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This is yet another Packaging Project but I plan to narrow it down to the specific problem of food. (I don't mean to piggyback on the 'repackaging' idea--it's just that packaging is such a huge source of waste these days.)
I am disturbed by the trend that food is getting packaged in ever-shrinking quantities. The teeny-tiny-single-serving-size everything is resulting in millions of teeny-tiny-single-serving-size bits of garbage getting thrown away every day. For everybody that refills their Nalgene bottle from the tap daily, there are hundreds of people who buy 3 bottles of Poland Spring to get through the day.
However: people need to eat. And there aren't going to be any Coke taps in our bathrooms anytime soon. I'd like my solution to reconcile our society's need for portable food/water with the desire to produce less waste. Whether this be a particular innovation in reusable packaging or a way to make buying stuff in bulk more attractive and accessible...I'm not sure. It's a big range of stuff, so any suggestions are much appreciated.
I'm thinking the solution will go down one of two alleys: choosing a really specific form of packaging and making it reallyreallycool and nondisposable, or reducing packaging by somehow making it more attractive and easy for people to buy bulk amounts of stuff. The problems, of course: you can design the Bestest Travel Mug in the Whole Wide World but some people just want to buy starbucks in a paper cup every day no matter what. It is just a fact of life that many people are not cooking dorks like me and would rather buy packaged snacks than try to make stuff from scratch and carry it around in tupperware.
Alternately, it would be packaging that simply disappears. For another contest I came up with dissolving toiletry packaging--just snap a single-serving shampoo "capsule" off a sheet and its water soluble coating will disappear as you wash your hair. Compostable or otherwise safely-destructible packaging could be another solution.
So, in my attempt to narrow down the scope of this problem: Any particular pet peeves? What do you think is the most wasteful innovation in food packaging? Or, in a different vein: what food packaging do you throw away every day? (So far, today, I've gone through: a juice container, a granola bar wrapper, a few foil wrappers from Hershey Kisses, and am partway through a plastic bag of pretzels. And it's not lunchtime yet.)
Last edited by abby on January 18th, 2005, 9:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Postby MichaelVH » January 11th, 2005, 9:05 pm


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Mostly I toss sandwich bags or seran wrap. I make my lunch or dinner at home before I go into work and take it in a plastic grocery bag. I usually use washable plastic containers but when their are none clean I grab a ziplock or seranwrap to keep to together.

Re: Slam #1: Food Packaging

Postby gadget--guy » January 11th, 2005, 11:36 pm


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abby wrote:Alternately, it would be packaging that simply disappears. For another contest I came up with dissolving toiletry packaging--just snap a single-serving shampoo "capsule" off a sheet and its water soluble coating will disappear as you wash your hair.


This concept would be best if it could be consumed as part of the food item, and perhaps add some kind of value as well. Otherwise it's still just packaging that consumes resources. Also it's important to keep in mind that disappearing packaging may or may not be a benefit to the environment, because it doesn't really dissappear. It goes somewher in some form.

Postby Sam » January 12th, 2005, 12:42 am


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Here's some cool stuff:

The stylish tupperware you'd never want to get rid of:
Image link

A clever alternative to sandwich bags:
Image link

I go through way too many sandwich bags, I've recently stopped carrying my lunch in sandwich bags, it's all tupperware now. What I can't stand is that so called "one-time use" tupperware. If you give someone a slick way to carry their food, something they are emotionally tied to they're likely not going to throw or lose the top and render it useless. For example, this. And this.

Re: Slam #1: Food Packaging

Postby abby » January 12th, 2005, 9:34 am

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gadget--guy wrote: Also it's important to keep in mind that disappearing packaging may or may not be a benefit to the environment, because it doesn't really dissappear. It goes somewher in some form.


Good point...edible packaging would be cool but people are so fussy about hygiene, etc. that it would have verrrrry limited applications. You're right that nothing completely disappears--however what if it "disappeared" in a beneficial way (like a banana, the perfectly packaged food--the peel makes great plant food.). Then again, it's not so beneficial if it just winds up in a landfill anyway.

I started thinking about this last night and I wonder if the solution is more something like eliminating the middleman and the need for certain kinds of extra packaging entirely. Here in NYC grocery delivery is getting bigger and better all the time. I get Urban Organic(which isn’t for everybody, I admit, but the great thing about it is that all the loose produce arrives in a big cardboard box—no more of those cottonpickin’ plastic produce bags that are used for 10 minutes to carry your apples home and then tossed!) and I have many friends who rave about Fresh Direct. I wonder if the return of the milkman is far behind! (Not that a milkman who drove a truck instead of a horse & carriage would be so eco-friendly, but you get the idea…) Grocery would become even more service based.

Or maybe it's something that makes it easy and convenient to grow your own food. Though I can't think of any huge innovations on this beyond your typical windowsill herb kit or something, and I don't think that the massive waste generated by basil packaging is exactly the biggest scourge on society.

I am also very intrigued by the whole plastic sandwich bag problem. (thanks for all the pics!) I am starting to think about lunchtime containers, maybe specifically for kids, with special themes or shapes. Turtle shaped containers for hoagie rolls…a crab or something to hold a flat sandwich… I have an aversion to creating yet more plastic crap though, and I feel like the underlying issue here is not how to appeal to the people who already use reusable containers for their food, but how to kind of force that on the consumers who don’t care and do buy and throw away mountains of trash. Hit the problem by reducing waste at the supply level—consumer goods like individually packaged yogurt and whatnot—rather than making yet another cool Tupperware-style container to join the masses of existing products for people who already use a little less waste.

Hmmm…is it possible that I am making this waaaay too complicated for myself?

....edited to say I just had a bit of a 'eureka' in my response to the "What's in Your Trash" thread. Maybe I should take an 'encourage reuse' tack rather than a 'reduce waste' tack.

Postby sensory overload » January 13th, 2005, 3:18 am


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at my place its generally milk pouches, instant noodles packets, biscuit packs that make up my waste. but yeah i'de haaaaaaaaaaate the thought of the packaging dissolving into my food. my grocer is not exactly known for his hygiene. so no way!!

Postby abby » January 13th, 2005, 9:03 am

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What if...people just reused their containers forever and ever?
The more I think about it the more silly it seems that we buy prepackaged food--oftentimes in really nice plastic or glass containers--and throw those packages away while spending money on tupperware. I do rinse and save a lot of containers (pasta looks cute in spaghetti sauce jars for example) but that doesn't even occur to most people. I mean, why would you want to save an I Can't Believe It's Not Butter vat anyway? It's ugly and cheap-looking.
I'd love to see a standardized packaging system wherein the packaging itself was simple, attractive and durable. It would be easy to remove the manufacturer's labels and replace them with your own (or not). Maybe the packaging would even come with a re-labeling system--write-on labels that would be adhered to the packaging or stuck into a special see-through pocket or something. The problems with this: cost (packaging worth keeping is more expensive than a cellophane wrapper) and Branding. What manufacturer is going to bow to what amounts to a removal of their identity? Although I imagine if one big company bought the idea they could turn it to their advantage--look, we're so eco friendly, look, our packaging is beautiful and memorable and will hang around your kitchen for years (perhaps with our logo embossed unobtrusively somewhere). The other issue is that of course it would have to be recyclable because these things wear out eventually and because it's also possible to just have too many damn containers.

Maybe it's as simple as redesigning the water bottle so the bottle and cap stay attached, and are made of the same material (I don't know about other cities, but here our recycling program requires us to remove and throw away all bottle and can lids, or they don't collect the recycling) for easy recycling. I forget the statistics exactly but the guy who redesigned the soda can pull tab saves hundreds of tons of aluminum from going into landfills every year--just by making sure it (usually) stays attached to the can. Not a food example, but Windex sells "refill" bottles that are exactly like regular bottles but without the nozzle. Really a simple idea (WHY re-buy the nozzle every time?), but revolutionary at the same time (seems like nobody else thought of it).

Or another encourage-reuse thing where I imagine a completely new function for some sort of packaging.

Postby melovescookies » January 13th, 2005, 10:08 pm

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How To Wrap Five More Eggs Traditional Japanese Packaging

I'm not sure if you've seen this book. My bad, if you've seen it and own it, but if you don't....it's a great book exploring food packaging using natural disposable materials such as straw and leaves, or more permanent (wood, ceramics.)

I've been using food containers that supposedly are one time use only for years! i have some that are at least 3 years old and they still do the job just fine. My only problem is that they get scratched up, stained with sauce, and plastic eventually absorbs all sorts of smells...it holds the food, but looks kind of gross after a while.

Edible packaging....I always end up eating rice paper that wraps the candy while everybody else is meticulously removing it. And my stepfather likes to "eat" muffin paper cups...but that was tmi, i guess.

Postby ykh » January 14th, 2005, 12:02 am


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"Maybe I should take an 'encourage reuse' tack rather than a 'reduce waste' tack."

i ate some spoiled food the other day....

Postby bluegrrrl » January 14th, 2005, 3:41 am


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here in south africa, 2 brands of margarine have started selling margarine in plain, durable plastic tubs (without branding) - product information and branding are contained on a cardboard strip which wraps around the plastic container. despite the fact that these tubs are slightly more expensive, people tend to prefer them over regular tubs - which is kinda strange, as people use old margarine tubs for storage, anyway.... i dont know if this will help u or not, but i thought u might find it useful :wink:

Postby abby » January 14th, 2005, 8:10 am

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bluegrrrl wrote:here in south africa, 2 brands of margarine have started selling margarine in plain, durable plastic tubs (without branding) - product information and branding are contained on a cardboard strip which wraps around the plastic container. despite the fact that these tubs are slightly more expensive, people tend to prefer them over regular tubs - which is kinda strange, as people use old margarine tubs for storage, anyway.... i dont know if this will help u or not, but i thought u might find it useful :wink:


Actually that is exactly what I was trying to describe.
I am very interested in the fact that people prefer the plain, expensive tubs. People really seem to be starving for things that aren't covered in advertising.

Postby porcupine » January 14th, 2005, 11:30 am


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People do like the more expensive tubs but there wll be a line where if it impacts too much the price of the food then it becomes prohibitive.

Another problem with food packaging is space. if people could collapse durable packages then it would be more attracctive. even when throwing stuff away i get upset at how much space it takes. I'm always trying to break it down/flatten it before before i put it in the trash. Cause otherwise you're taking out the garbage every day. So if it can be durable but foldable/collapsable it would be cool.

Postby iab » January 14th, 2005, 4:21 pm


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Instead of folding or collapsing, if the containers were standardized as you proposed, they could nest, that would save a lot of space. I am still not convinced about that even saving enough volume. I am a part of a family of four and if I were to estimate, I would say we spend about $6,000-$7,500 annually at the grocery store. If the average price per item is $5, that would mean I am buying 1200-1500 items annually. If only 10% used a durable, resuable packaging, I would have 120-150 of them at my house, too many for me to use in just one year.

Postby abby » January 14th, 2005, 4:38 pm

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iab wrote: If only 10% used a durable, resuable packaging, I would have 120-150 of them at my house, too many for me to use in just one year.


Yes, I think it is going to be very important to strike a balance between quality and easy disposal/recyclability. Ideally the containers will be nice enough you can keep them around for a while but not SO nice/expensive that you can't throw them away (recycle of course) without feeling guilty. Obviously it would be impossible to keep every single container forever.
All the suggestions so far are great.

Postby Silver » January 17th, 2005, 11:24 pm


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I just found out we have similar topics. I wonder if you have any opinion about it... I don't mind BTW, just having fun.

As I said in my thread, foldable paging constructed like a Chinese lantern could be a solution though cleaning is always annoying, which is basically why ppl love throw-away dishes...

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