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Compostable Food Packaging by 2010?

May 5, 2009

My friend Colleen just shared this link with me. Let me just say that SunChips has got its act together. In 2010 they plan on introducing the first compostable chip bag. I knew it was coming… but so soon and with such big companies?

“These innovative bags are designed to fully decompose in about 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost bin or pile…So you eat the chips. The earth eats the bag. And we all live in a cleaner world”.

You may be thinking…

1) What are the bags made out of? Answer: Journey for a Better Bag

2) How do they work? How are they sustainable? Answer: SunChips Behind the Scenes

2) What in the world is hot, active compost? Answer: Compost in Your Backyard

SunChips actually answers all these questions! I can’t express how frustrating it is when companies claim their products are “green” and then never explain why or how or what material. They think saying “AND product X is green so it is good for the environment” is enough information to placate people. (Maybe it is? okay that issue is a different post altogether).

Designers listen up! When you design a product and have planned out its afterlife and how it should be used and disposed of.. inform the consumers! Everyday recyclables are thrown in the trash because people are (a) lazy or (b) do not know that they are supposed to be recycling it. Communicate in someway what someone should do with an expired product. After all, you are enabling them with your design.. how are they supposed to know what you want them to do? A lot of the packaging I have left over from frozen goods and other foods without recycling labels… I have no idea what to do with. I’m not suggesting every product comes with an extra long manual because who actually reads those? Maybe new recyclable-phrases can be incorporated into packaging. Phrases like “After use, place in compost”. Or provide the user with alternatives, “For more information about re-using this bottle, visit website X”. Consumers can’t read minds; it is our job to teach them.

The way SunChips presented their new developments is so upfront and clear. I love it! They really explain themselves in a thorough way. It is like they actually want the consumer to understand and enjoy their product (what a concept). Props to Frito Lay. Check out their website for other interesting sustainable projects too.

What do other designers think?

1) Have you thought about how you want a user to dispose of your projects/products?

2) How did you want to educate them (manual, label, intuition…)

3) Is this even important to designers? Is it a designer’s job?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2009 23:00

    1) if im honest, no. now that i think of it, it is kind of embarrasing. but in school we were never asked to think about it, and there was no project were sustainability would have been that big of an issue. and in my intership i didnt have to think about that either because the projects were either A)conceptual B)the materials were given by the company C)only “package” design

    2)i guess people are mostly lazy, so i would try to make it as convenient as possible. and the sign should be directly ON the product, as things as manuals/packaging are usually thrown away.

    3) yes i think it is, even though i havent done it. i mean it always depends on the project, theres many projects where you have very strict boundaries in which you have to work so you wont have that much of an influence.
    i think the part where you can change the most is package design, so if your designing some product, and you get the chance to decide how it is packaged.then you might be able to choose a sustainable alternative.

  2. Lori permalink
    May 5, 2009 23:14

    I think what SunChips is doing sounds like a great idea! I’m also beyond glad that main-stream companies are beginning to pick up the pace on sustainable packaging.

    As far as informing the consumers, I was thinking it might pay off to have an ‘informative advertising’ campaign — perhaps viral, or perhaps not — where TV, internet, and/or print ads would inform the consumer, not just labels on the bag. That way, advertising could accomplish part of the job before the consumer even laid eyes on the product. At the very least, the idea would be shoved in their memories.

    Yes, this is definitely a designer’s job to consider the ENTIRE product life cycle, from extraction to manufacturing to use to disposal/recycling (wow, did I actually learn something in materials this past semester…?). Of course, in a larger company, it may be more difficult for the designer’s ideals to see fruition. That’s why it’s so great to see a company like SunChips actually addressing these questions of sustainability.

    Anyway — hope that answered at least some of your questions!

    ❤ lw

  3. hanna permalink
    May 6, 2009 11:35

    Today at 11:02
    1) Have you thought about how you want a user to dispose of your projects/products?

    Yes- All the time! I think aboput what will happen afterwards and what material i choose. I feel a bit sad everytime i have to work with plastic. but somethings are so much easier in that material. also we learn more about shaping plastic than wood in school.

    2) How did you want to educate them (manual, label, intuition…)

    it’s not only designer’s job but the whole society’s. But the designer can make it easier for the user to recycle and repair their objects. The designer have a big inpact on product. where many of the decisions are taken without referring to the end user. most of the design decisions are based on the designers taste and opinions and the producer just accepting redy made proposals..

    3) Is this even important to designers? Is it a designer’s job?

    It’s is super important. but designers need help from others such a willing top management that are interested in design. and of course more knowledge about materials from schools.

    Hope this helps. Good Luck Krystal!

  4. Andy permalink
    May 7, 2009 01:45

    I recently saw a guest lecture at my school about new and innovative materials. In a general sense the lecture was geared towards architecture students, but the lecturer did briefly mention the idea of biodegradable plastics and showed a few examples.

    The SunChips “green packaging” reminded me of this, and like Krystal I was surprised to see that the technology, which is relatively new, is already being implemented, albeit on a small scale (SunChips acknowledges that it will be a little while before all their packaging is made from PLA).

    I’m an architecture student, so I don’t really have a good answer to the first question Krystal posed, but…

    2. It seems like an effective and efficient way to communicate the idea that a product (or its packaging) is sustainable is to visually represent that on the packaging itself. When you talk about product recycling or disposal manuals, you start developing other expenses (paper, bindings, etc) that may end up offsetting the initial benefit of having a sustainable product.

    3. Enhancing consumer knowledge about sustainability is the responsibility of a number of different disciplines, including the designer. Normally the packaging of a product is the responsibility of the advertising or marketing firm that the manufacturer uses. What’s really needed is a greater degree of communication between marketing and design firms about what type of packaging the designers’ products are going to end up in. Also, a change in convention is needed in terms of representing the fact that a product/its packaging is sustainable. A lot of the recyclable packaging (paper cereal boxes, glass and plastic bottles, etc.) that I see and use on a daily basis either don’t have any mention of recycling or only have a tiny notification regarding recycling. Recyclable packaging and products should more clearly notify the consumer of their sustainability.

    I read a statistic today that stated that only something like 5.8% of the 200 million tons of plastic produced every year ends up being recycled. Even though this is improving with increased awareness about sustainability, the emerging technology for creating bio-plastic/biodegradable plastic is crucial to reducing overall waste. It’s also really interesting from a technological perspective. If you’re interested in reading more, you can get some good links by searching “biodegradable plastics” in Google.

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