Sustainable, changeable, digital – the packaging trends of the future

Packaging doesn’t have to be thrown away – it can be eaten, transformed into another object or passed on to someone else.

We look at some of the new packaging trends that are emerging, and how designers are getting inventive with the medium to reduce their carbon footprint, help those who are partially-sighted – or even immerse consumers in virtual reality.

Packaging that’s good enough to eat

Ooho! gelatinous water capsule, by Skipping Rocks Lab
Ooho! gelatinous water capsule, by Skipping Rocks Lab

Why recycle packaging when you could eat it? One of the latest drives in reducing the carbon footprint of food packaging is in “biodegredible” – biodegradable and edible – innovations. Kickstarted by Harvard professor David Edwards in 2012, the idea is to wrap food or liquid in an edible coating, reducing packaging waste.

US start-up Loliware then launched a gelatinous, flavoured cup made of seaweed, and Skipping Rocks Lab aimed to cut plastic pollution with its water bottle alternative, Ooho! – a water-filled, gelatinous blob surrounded by an algae film, which can be eaten after the water has been consumed. The designers of Ooho! claim it is “easy and cheap” to make, “strong”, and “hygienic”, though haven’t specified how it can be carried or stored.

Now, furniture giant Ikea has decided to swap out polystyrene for mushrooms, with its new “fungi packaging” – although not intended for consumption, this new eco-friendly alternative, developed by US company Ecovative, can biodegrade naturally in a few weeks.

Packaging that communicates through touch


Tactile packaging solutions are being used to communicate in the same way as – and perhaps even more effectively than – words. Designer Solveiga Pakstaite has created Bump Mark – a tactile expiry date, which informs visually impaired people about the state of their food through touch. A small sheet of gelatine is placed on the packaging; when it feels smooth, the food is in date, then when it starts to feel bumpy, it’s time to chuck it out.

The bio-reactive label is based on the fact that gelatine is a protein, so should technically decay at the same rate as protein-based foods – which, the designers claim, makes the Bump Mark “far more accurate than a printed date”.

Packaging with several personalities

Pizza Hut projection box, by Ogilvy and Mather
Pizza Hut projection box, by Ogilvy and Mather

Packaging has been given a new lease of life by several designers, who have turned otherwise useless receptacles into useful items. Last year, we saw Ogilvy and Mather turn Pizza Hut’s cardboard box from pepperoni hoarder to working film projector – powered by the user’s smartphone, the box contains a lense, which is inserted into a perforated hole in the side, and then projects a display onto the wall.

Launching at this year’s Packaging Innovations fair is also a reusable shopping bag that converts into a super-absorbent cloth when it’s not carrying groceries. Ragbag is made from the plant material cellulose and cotton, recycled from t-shirt trimmings. Designed by US company Metropak, the bag-cloth can allegedly absorb more than eight times as much liquid as a paper towel, and is the same size as your average plastic bag.

La French Touch, by AKQA
La French Touch, by AKQA

At the more extravagant end of the spectrum companies are striving to make new technology accessible to all, as they unveil packaging that can be transformed from mundane cardboard into vehicles for virtual reality. The latest work from Coca-Cola’s creative team unveiled this week is cardboard drinks packaging that can be origami-folded into a virtual reality headset, inspired by Google Cardboard. Consultancy AKQA has followed suit in its collaboration with French cognac brand Martell on its new product launch. Investing in this exciting tech is a smart way at making consumers feel involved with a brand, as they’re given the power to build their own VR headsets.

Packaging that prevents waste

Decorate paint tubes, by Alec Machin

A common plight of traditional tins and glass jars are the inevitable remnants left at the bottom – Nottingham University graduate Alec Machin has created a paint packaging solution to squeeze out every last drop. Formed of a hexagonal, cardboard box, Decorate helps to prevent wastage and paint drying out, with a one-way valve stopping the contents from coming into contact with the air, which causes the paint to oxidise and go off. The box can also be squeezed and flattened, allowing all the paint to be extracted, then either reused to store paint again or recycled.

CupClub coffee cups, by Studio D-Tale
CupClub coffee cups, by Studio D-Tale

Studio D-Tale has also designed a cyclical, reusable system aimed at stopping coffee cup waste. Set to launch this year, Cup Club will put the power of recycling in consumers’ hands by allowing them to find retailers via an app that will serve them coffee in special cups. They will then be able to deposit these cups at checkpoints, where they will be cleaned and replaced back into the system. The initiative is set to launch in the UK later this year.

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  • Nick Corston February 29, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Great piece – packaging and brand experience and utility.

    How many people keep the packing from new iPhones? It’s part of the experience, in fact for 5 minutes as you pull the dampened lid off and the air seaps in, it IS the brand experience.

    On the other hand, how many times have you been revolted by a box full of polystyrene chips and plastic padding and what did that make you feel about the brand?

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