Reconcile our Consumer Economy with Sustainability
The definition of consume-to destroy or expend; to devour-is at direct odds with the definition of sustain-to continue, to uphold, to keep in existence. The two concepts are diametrically opposed.
So we live in a contradiction. How do we reconcile the two?
We’ve got to say, as Albert Einstein did, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
People shouldn’t be thinking about one-way packages. You think you can just throw something away, but there’s no such thing as “away.” It does go somewhere and, wherever it goes, it has a consequence. So, we need to think less about throwing something away and more about reintroducing it or repurposing it, finding other uses for it. We need to continue to push the envelope to develop packages that are more sustainable in their design.
The best model out there is nature. How can we design packages that most closely model nature? What’s a great package out there? A banana. It holds the product within and the peel is completely biodegradable. An orange is pretty good, too. In some cases, the outer shell is even edible.
From where we are now, it seems like a stretch to say we want bottles that we can eat when we finish using them. But I’m willing to bet that, within our lifetime, there will be packages out there that, once they’ve finished their first use, can go on to a second use that doesn’t take a recapturing and conversion process.
Maybe there’s a peel or outer shell that you can take off a bottle once you’ve used it and then that bottle degrades. Is there a way to make packaging more than an end point in the lifecycle chain?
For example, we introduced Honest Kids in a pouch because the product-to-package ratio was high-97% product by weight compared to 3% package-that was definitely one of the benefits of the pouch. But the downside was that the pouch wasn’t recyclable. So we set up a new type of system to “recycle” our Honest Kids pouches.
Consumers, usually kids in school clubs or scout troops, collect the pouches and send in 100 at a time to a company called TerraCycle, which is our partner. TerraCycle converts them into pencil cases, handbags and different products, which are then sold in retail stores. That’s a nice way for the end consumer, the kids, to be involved in the lifecycle chain of the package itself.
I recognize that some of these ideas are not mainstream. They’re a little funky. But that’s how packaging folks have to think to fill the gap of where we are now to where we need to be.