Slam #1: Methods for Product Repackaging

My Slam concept has less to do with a product than it does with a Method. (I’ll have to figure out what form this will take…)

Design Statement:

eBay is changing the product longevity dynamic by creating a worldwide “trickle-down” persistant market for nearly any product. As a result, when I buy something today I consider it’s durability, marketability, and resale market value and hold onto the original packing materials.

But auctioning a product is still effortful, and if the product is broken, it hardly seems worth the effort to the seller or the buyer. My idea would be to inherently streamline the repackaging/refurbishing process. This explores life-cycle issues while building upon William McDonough’s principles for “Cradle to Cradle” manufacturing.

If I bought a new gadget, I would want…

-A seal of approval. The package should be identified and validated as repurposeable (ie. "Cradle to Cradle) which among other things could mean:

-The package to be durable enough to survive long term storage and multiple re-uses. Corrugated plastic vs. cardboard? Foam vs. Polystyrene? Ziplock bags instead of tear-open bags?

-A durable instruction manual in multiple languages

-Details on how/where to dispose of/recycle

-A URL to the instruction manual and support webpage–on the packaging or product itself to prevent loss.

-A URL to generate an auction page on the item automatically. This would include all the details about the product from the manufacturer, but also include an anonymous log of previous ownerships (like carfax)

-A pre-filled FedEx label to return the product in its packaging to the manufacturer (or approved 3rd party) for refurbishing. It would be nice if the manufacturer would buy it from you at market value–then you’d be finished and they could auction it off for you (they’d keep the profits in this case, which finances the project. They could also sell a mfr. warantee for additional profit.)

-Utility in the product itself to restore itself to factory defaults. For gadgets this means backing up and then wiping data.

-Adherence to international standards. If I lose the power cord, I can easily buy another one from a 3rd party. If I sell the product to someone in a country with different voltage standards, they don’t need a power adapter etc.

  • ???

I like the idea - I had thought of something similar myself (reusable/dual-use packaging) when trying to come up with an entry for design slam, but have decided to pursue a different avenue.

The only problem that comes to mind is the increased cost of the heavier packaging, website, etc. that will be passed on to the consumer. Having a higher price than a competing product, even if it is superior, is a tough sell.
Knowing that you can recoup some of the cost later on may help in that area, however.

Web Research:

Trade Associations:
Package design awards from the “World Packaging Organisation”

The Institute of Packaging Professionals:

Trade Publications:

Packaging World Magazine:

Labels and Labeling Magazine:

The packaging must be very space efficient or it will not be stored by the “normal” consumer long enough to last until re-sale.

The people to watch are the people that buy high-end audio equipment, like me. Just about all of them keep the original boxes, styrofoam, poly bagging, accessories and instruction manuals. This is done not only for higher re-sale value, but also for transportation to audiophile gatherings or moving from one residence to another.

In my own case, the storage locker in the basement of my apartment building is completely full of boxes for my computers, video and audio equipment. Fortunately, I am able to layer the boxes like a Ukranian doll with the DVD player foam and box inside the foam of the amplifier box which is inside the foam of the monitor box which is inside the foam for the TV box.

It sure would be nice if inflatable cushions were used instead. Then all that packaging could be flattened for storage and I could put real stuff in my storage locker.


I think the inflatable cushining is a great idea! I thought about that possibility yesterday, but I didn’t think it was worth mentioning, my loss.

Nobody’s loss. Everybody’s gain.


I dig it. I saw some inflatable packaging a few years ago that had a clever one way flap (valve) that allowed you to easily inflate.

How about a stackable paper-pulp egg-crate design? Aligned one way it stacks tightly. Align any other way and it becomes instant filler.

I hadn’t considered the “nested doll” storage option–but we all do it.

I wonder if standardized box sizing would help the situation?

If weight was roughly known, this might also help the ship-back issue–thats one of my gripes about shipping auction goods from home. I’m not “professional enough” to own a postage scale and meter, but if the original package had a standard size/weight/cost associated with it, automatic-postage (via the web or charge-back) would be built-in.

I heard that some european countries require foreign manufacturers to recieve their packaging back. Does anyone know anything about that?

If your the kind of consumer I am, you don’t have the space to store boxes and packaging that you will likely never touch again except to throw away.

What about the idea that common carriers like FedEx or UPS work with manufacturers to recieve and return packaging and used products to either the manufacturer or recycling facilities. If you no longer have the packaging, the carrier could repackage it for you per the manufacturers requirements. Packaging could even be returned empty, and if properly designed, at least portions of it could be reused to package new products. The cost of this would of course be worked into the purchase price. Such a scheme could help carriers utilize excess capacity during periods of low demand, since these returns would certainly not be time sensitive.

The ubiquitous box could be a good candidate for a box standard…

For shipping, the box needs to obscure the contents (the ubiquitous brown box.)

You could either:

  • Buy them
  • Obtain them from the shipping agent
  • Store them flat
  • Store them as-is (or nested-doll style)

But manufacturers also need shelf-appeal for store-bought products.
A typical way to address this is via a 4-color cardboard band that sleeves around the generic inner box. …Then for re-shipping, the owner can fold up the sleeve and store it inside the box.

I like the Amazon box thought! They’re taking over!!!

It’s not the consumer, it’s the product. Products that have planned obsolescence do not need long-lived packaging. If you’ve ever spent $3000 for a single speaker, you’re going to keep the packaging for when you move from one apartment to another.


As cg and purplepeopledesign have both mentioned, product life cycle is going to play a very important role in the solution. I believe that consumer habits and lifestyle will also play a very important role.

I envision solutions that will fall into 3 main categories:

  1. High end goods (defined by high quality and long lifecycle not price)
    These products for the most part already have a solution, as they are sold and resold, passed on as heirlooms, and typically have systems for exchange already in place, except perhaps at the end of life when the product no longer functions.
    For items in this category packaging may need to be reusable, sturdy, and perhaps even have multiple uses. Perhaps your $3000 subwoofer box could double as a nightstand or a foot-stool. Perhaps the speaker box that the subwoofer mounts ito could also serve as the packaging by being able to reassemble with panels turned inside-out to both protect the speaker and prevent scratches on the exterior surfaces.

  2. Mid-range products (defined by good to low quality and short to medium lifecycle)
    These products I think represent the largest amount of products, and perhaps pose the greatest challenge. This category poses a great challenge largely because it is ignored. This group contains products that have a long enough lifecycle that most people don’t even consider disposal or end of life, except in the potential event of a warranty return. Also to consider is that many manufacturers of products in this group may no longer exist at the product end of life. This group also contains products that while still functional at the end of life, have been obsoleted or are no longer in style.
    Packaging in this category I believe should be recyclable and or reusable. It should avoid being product or brand specific to encourage re-use. I believe that due to consumer habits and lifestyle, the packaging for products in this group will have a much shorter lifecycle than the products themselves, but with proper design, and a system in place, perhaps the packaging could be reincarnated. A system for managing the reuse and recycling of packaging and also the products themselves will certainly need to be established.

  3. Disposable goods (defined by products whose lifecycle is less than 1 or 2 years)
    This category though not as large as category 2, I belive is much larger than category 1. Although this category still presents many challenges, I believe much is already being done to addres them. Much still needs to be done however.
    Packaging in this group should be minimal and recyclable with a valid system in place for recieving and recycling both packaging and products.

When designing for recyclability, I feel it is very important to do more than simply specifying recyclable materials. Try to use a single material in your design. If multiple materials are required, try to use compatible materials(materials that can be recycled together and are usually of the same type different grade). When multiple non-compatible materials must be used, try to design them to be easily separated. Many recycling efforts fail due to the issues involved with trying to sepparate incompatible materials. If you need another challenge, then try to design a product that can use inconsistently contaminated recycled material.

  • gadget–guy

Why not go organic?

Compost your packaging along with your egg shells and apple cores.

Most cardboards will break down with the help of the enzymes in a compost heap. The problem is the chemical compounds used in producing this packaging leaching into the environment. Weed out the chlorine bleach, dioxins, and such; leaving a compost friendly material.

Plastic too can be composted. Such as corn starch packing peanuts that bio-degrade.

And you don’t have to be a farmboy to join in the fun. Small urban lots can accommodate a compost bin. Or, there would be recycling bins for plastic, glass, and bio-nutrient materials. Give back to the farms that we take so much from.

i belive it was William McDonough that suggested bio-degradable beverage cups that carry seeds and are nutrient rich. The swirling masses of garbage in a vacant lot could be the beginning of a neighborhood wild garden.

Litter and watch it Grow.

Though I too am deeply enamored with compost, it seems like part of the challenge (and the fun) is to create a durable product that somehow replaces something disposable.

It might help to define what kind of product you want to create packaging for–maybe the packaging could be involved in the life of the product somehow. High-end stereo componets, for example, might be packaged in something that could be useful for storing LPs and also used as a shipping container.

Thats right, the objective should be to dissuade disposable use… I really do think that eBay is helping to discourage that by creating a simple trickle-down market.

I don’t want to focus on the high-end market because those products have the least impact, and as mentioned, their owners already consider the remarketing by keeping the original materials etc…

So I think we’re really talking about the bulk of stuff you’d buy at a place like Best-Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Amazon, Staples, etc…

Of course, as McDonough says, the products are destined for the landfill, you’re just creating a temporary stop on their way there.

If the product is perceived as high-end, the consumer expects it to last for ages and even be something that can be handed down or re-sold at some future date. The lower the perceived quality, the higher the disposability.

This extends to all price points: Bic razor vs. Mach3; Sharpie vs. Chartpak; paperback vs. hardcover; newspaper vs. magazine; Konica vs. Nikon; Suzuki vs. Lexus; Black&Decker vs. Porter-Cable; housing projects vs. gated community; etc.

Even though eBay is making life cycles longer, not everything is affected. How often does one see paperbacks for re-sale on the net?

The other side of the problem is that many people cannot afford to have durable goods. It is not a question of desire, but finances. Regardless of performance, some men will never own a Braun cordless shaver because of the cost. It might save money in the long run, but the initial cost is very high for people on limited income. The poorest people are forced to buy disposable razors because that is what the monthy cash flow can handle.

Product design has to comprise both higher quality and lower cost. Otherwise, a significant effect on purchasing habits will not be possible. In that sense, Graves for Target is on the right track. It is why Ikea is better than DWR. For a significant savings, more consumers are acquiring goods with higher perceived quality. Maybe not as boutique as an Eames chair, but just as worthy of giving to your kids when they first leave the nest.


Everyday on

What’s REALLY cool about that example is that Amazon’s brilliant “one click ordering” works with it.

Buying used “disposable” products (like paperback books) is only feasible if the entire transaction (on both parties) is super easy and super low cost.

I’ve never bought anything used from Amazon–is it consumer-to-consumer like eBay?

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could stuff a box full of stuff and just ship it off to Amazon, then they could offer you fair market value for everything and return the stuff they don’t want (packaged in your next Amazon order of course!)

Two other concepts have come to mind:

Kozmo (dot com)'s drop boxes, conveniently located in Starbucks everywhere.

“Secure postal storage boxes.” I recall a few .com ideas that had to do with secured storage boxes that acted like super mailboxes. Only you and the postal carriers had access, and they could securely store large boxes.

Standard post-boxes are designed for the era of letters. It only makes sense that in the era of e-commerce, a bigger, more sophisticated solution would replace them. Like modern FedEx drop-boxes, they could also serve to replenish shipping supplies (like boxes) and labels. An integrated barcode scanner, scale etc. might even assist you in outbound shipping.

Unbelievably, this was announced today at CES, and the corresponding eBay site also went live today:

What to do with old PCs? EBay weighs in
Auction site, partners offer paths to recycling, reuse

Rethink Initiative’s site: Selling on eBay | Electronics, Fashion, Home & Garden | eBay

Why the Rethink Initiative?

While most Americans know that electronics can be damaging to the environment if disposed of improperly, only a small minority (15%) are aware that electronics can be recycled where they live.4 eBay and other Rethink Initiative members offer a number of solutions that make it easier to responsibly deal with used computers and electronics. The Rethink Initiative takes advantage of the power of the eBay platform to build awareness of these solutions among the millions of eBay users.

Reuse as well as Recycling
By bringing millions of buyers and sellers together, the eBay marketplace enables reuse on a large scale. Reusing computers and electronics extends their useful life. That maximizes their value before they’re finally recycled, and delays their entry into the waste stream - another advantage as more advanced recycling techniques are developed.

…So that’s good, but I don’t see anything really revolutionary here, just attention to the issue, so I’ll continue my concept!

I remembered about a Cradle to Cradle packaging design competition. You might want to check out that has a lot of resources.