Environmentally unfriendly Design solutions?

Does anyone know of some popular or contemporary examples of unfriendly design solutions, whether it be packaging, product design, interior, architecture, etc? :unamused: I’m trying to find examples besides some of the obvious, like SUV’s and things that are powered by large amounts of coal.


Anything that places aesthetics before function could be argued to be wasteful, and therefore, unfriendly to the environment.

All of those cheap products that are just repackaged old products are wasteful too. I’m thinking specifically of toasters. Every year the design changes for the cheap toasters at Wal-Mart and I suppose some people buy new toasters even though their old ones function. That’s wasteful.

Almost anything electronic has the potential of polluting the land and water if not disposed of properly (most aren’t). That’s from all the metals in electronics.

Plastic or paper bags at grocery stores are far less friendly than a reusable cotton bag. Actually, anything non-reusable. Think diapers. Milk bottles used to be glass and would be cleaned and refilled and delivered door-to-door.

The incadescent light bulb uses more energy and doesn’t last as long as halogen and flourescent bulbs, let alone the developing LED technology.

Boxes are unfriendly. For some reason every product needs to be placed in a neat square cardboard box. Why? We could always design products to be transported outside a box and just slap a UPC on them.

Transportation is horribly unfriendly. 20% of greenhouse gas in developed countries come from cars. Something like 30+% come from airplanes. (Solution, ban airplanes, give everyone an SUV?). Any product that is produced more than 500 miles from it’s market is horrible wasteful in terms of the transport it takes. That’s why I’ve stopped eating bananas.

Diapers are the big ones that come to mind. Back in the 50’s and 60’s (and before) parents didn’t seem to mind just rinsing the cloth diapers in the toilet and then washing them. How about those multi layered, Capri sun drink boxes/bags? They were such the craze when they first hit 20+ years ago.

Easy- Pick anything that is out there and I bet you can find something in it’s production or consumption chain that this harmful to the environment.

There are certainly good examples of excessive packaging, I can’t argue that. But a blanket statement of boxes are unfriendly is too much. The four objectives of packaging are to protect, contain, distribute and market. Without that box, it would be difficult, probably impossible, to get an ipod with its earbuds, software, instruction manual, warranty, power cord and whatever else comes with it from the factories(more than one is used for all of the materials) in China that produce the stuff to my house without it getting a scratch, even if it were made of stainless steel. (How’s that for a run on sentence.)

Also, I find it ironic you don’t eat bananas when they are an example of a product with as perfect packaging as can be.

A lot of packaging is about convenience, which is always wasteful. For instance, cafes and restaurants that serve drinks in take away cups. Assuming that only 5% of the North American population gets a single take away drink every day, that works out to about 4 billion cups annually.

CD-Rs are wasteful. If they stopped making single write CDs and started printing music and movies on CD-RW and DVD-RW, there would be a lot less being made and a lot less being thrown out. Then we could re-use our unwanted discs for data and back-up.


hey team,

Im currently working at a large international packaging company that designs rigid packaging eg. aerosols, food cans, beverage cans, closures and speciality packaging like biscuit tines etc.
Its easy to say that they are not environmentally friendly it may even be easy to come up with alternatives but the difficult part is convincing the customer (whether it be Nestle or Gillete) that the friendly idea is the better idea.
All the companies want cheap and easy solutions…they dont get anything extra for being good and going for the friendly option.

If we want packaging to be more friendly then there needs to be some sort of motivation for them to go for it.

cell phones

-people want the newest and coolest phones and providers are all too happy to offer us reduced price/no cost phones through contracts and contract extensions
-most phones are only required to last half of any given contract for normal wear and tear (generally a year) when they go through endurance testing (this is hear say, if incorrect please correct me)

-are the cell phone recycling programs really helping anything or is it mostly PR ??? anybody know

One of the local phone recycle programs claims to have donated $300K to charity. As well, the local carriers allow any old cell phone to dial 911 even without an account, so many recycling programs just give old phones to people for that purpose.


A nasty trend that has occurred in design over that last five or so years (at least in terms of environmental sustainability) is overmolding of different kinds of plastics. Take your average toothbrush for instance. Most toothbrushes these days have at least one plastic overmolded onto another. Due to the overmolding process, the two plastics cannot easily be separated. If these plastics are signifcantly different in formulation, and they often are, the toothbrush cannot easily be recycled into usable materials. Thus, they just get tossed in the garbage with everything else.

If it was just toothbrushes that used this process, it would be no big deal but go to your desk and pic up a pen. Most of the time it will also include an overmolded piece that will not come apart easily. Try a cell phone, a stapler, a tape dispenser, and these are just the things on my desk…

Are overmolds nice? Sure. Are they esthetically pleasing? Yes. Is it more comfortable to hold a pen overmolded with a conformal material? Definitely. But where is the benefit if things we used to recycle are now just throw aways?

Just some thoughts that I had from being at a injection molder last week. It makes you think a lot about the materials you use when you design…

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