So often treated as an afterthought, packaging can be integral to the impact and success of a product, as Mike Scott reports
Consumer goods giant Unilever continues its campaign to reduce the organisation’s environmental impact with a new deodorant can that holds the same amount of product as its predecessor, but cuts the amount of aluminium used by around a quarter and halves the amount of propellant gas.
By 2020 the company aims to reduce the weight of packaging by one third by using lighter materials, optimising structural and material design, developing more concentrated products, and eliminating unnecessary packaging. To date it has cut the weight of packaging per consumer by 11 per cent.
Its new deodorant can design, which won the Diamond Award in the 2014 DuPont Packaging Awards, means that 53 per cent more cans fit on to a pallet. This translates into 35 per cent fewer lorries needed to transport the product, saving fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. The company claims the smaller cans are “the first major packaging reduction initiative for aerosol deodorants since they were introduced in the 1960s”.
Unilever created a new £20-million production line at its factory in Leeds. Initially, the cans were used just for its female deodorant brands, but having saved 77 tons of aluminium in a year – enough to make 38,000 bicycles – it extended the new cans to its male range as well.
The initiative follows Unilever’s introduction in 2007 of a new formulation for Persil washing liquid, which concentrated the same number of washes into a bottle one third the size, resulting in one third of the packaging, one third the water use and only one third the required transport compared to diluted liquids.
At the other end of the scale is Bump Mark, a packaging innovation that has not even gone into production yet, but could in time replace “best before” dates on food.
Bump Mark is a “bio-reactive food expiry label” that tells you exactly how fresh your food is simply by running your finger over the label. It uses gelatine to model the decaying process of food.
“As the gelatine decays, it becomes a liquid when it expires,” says Solveiga Pakštaitė, who invented the label while studying industrial design at Brunel University. “If it’s smooth, then you’re good to go, but if you start to feels bumps as the gelatine breaks down, be cautious.”
The label has won an award from the James Dyson Foundation and Brunel’s Inclusive Design Award. Ms Pakštaitė, 23, has a patent pending on the label, and is in talks with retailers and technology development companies.
Food waste is a huge issue as every year consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Ms Pakštaitė’s original inspiration was to help visually impaired consumers to know when their food was safe to eat, as currently the only indication is a printed date. But, even though almost 300 million people around the world have some form of visual impairment, she says: “I knew that the solution must appeal to sighted people also, because the sad reality is that new solutions only get implemented if the benefits are useful to the majority.”
In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, one in seven children die from preventable diseases, notably diarrhoea, partly because there are no medicines available. Yet, at the same time, it is possible to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola almost anywhere – according to The Economist, more than 36 billion bottles of Coke were sold in Africa in 2008.
UK-based design consultancy pi global created AidPod (see above image), a packaging and distribution programme to treat diarrhoea, for ColaLife, a charity that piggy-backs on the “last mile” of Coca-Cola’s world-leading distribution network to deliver medicines to remote areas.
The AidPod, which won the 2013 DuPont Packaging Award, is a self-contained anti- diarrheal kit that tucks between bottles in Coca-Cola crates. The key to the product’s success is that the wedge-shaped kits are large enough to contain a big enough dose of medicine, but small enough not to displace any Coke bottles and thus affect the company’s bottom line.
AidPod had to meet strict guidelines covering medication containers. They are securely sealed with a strong film that can withstand severe impact, maintain pack integrity and prevent contamination. The latest version of the AidPod container has evolved to become part of the kit itself, serving as both a single, measured dose for mixing and as a drinking vessel.
In the first 12 months of the trial, 25,000 kits were sold to retailers in Zambia, who sell them on to customers. When the ColaLife trial started in September 2012, no child in the trial areas received the recommended treatment for diarrhoea. One year later, 45 per cent of children did.