A few things have prompted me to look at the issue of excessive or unnecessary packaging on the gear we buy. In the UK questionable use of plastics in food packaging has been highlighted in the most hard-hitting way by the treatment it received on the BBCs Blue Planet 2 and the big food retailers have collectively shuffled uncomfortably under the disappointed gaze of our collective moral conscience (and National Treasure in chief) David Attenborough and promised to try harder.
The second thing which happened was that I was having a clear out and disposed of some packaging from some of my gear. The two brands involved were Apple and Universal Audio and in both cases, I had kept the packaging not because I was ensuring I had it if I needed to move (Dan asked the community whether we keep our old boxes for just this reason) but because the packaging was just so pretty. Apple's packaging is famously indulgent but I'd completely forgotten about the Universal Audio packaging.
The third thing was that I dug out the original packaging for some equipment a manufacturer had lent me and I was struck by the amount of closed cell foam and plastic coated cardboard which made all of the packaging effectively un-recyclable. Why?
Brands have long understood the opportunity presented by packaging to influence our perception of a particular product, something which confuses me in the case of our world is that in the overwhelming majority of cases we have already made our purchase by the time we see the packaging. However, there are still opportunities for brands here and considering the speed with which the public perception of the use of plastics has been affected by the BBC Blue Planet series, the opportunities presented are no longer to underline the quality of materials used as much as the brand’s attitude to the resources they are using on our behalf.
My favourite example of innovative, responsible packaging pre-dates the recent attention this issue has received. The Teenage Engineering OP-1 was released several years ago and shipped in a recycled PaperFoam box. This injection moulded, biodegradable packaging material is the perfect example of how responsible packaging can still be attractive, practical and can promote a positive and classy brand perception. Held in place by two equally biodegradable rubber bands, I’m sure most of these didn’t get binned until they fell apart.
A material which has attracted the interest of Dell and Ikea is mycofoam. This is an alternative to styrofoam and is made of sawdust and fungal mycelium. It’s durable, biodegradable and can be grown into any shape, no injection moulding necessary. I even heard of a prototype loudspeaker cabinet being built from mycofoam.
There is an easy win here for brands willing to take the longer view as we as consumers try to reconcile the pleasure of acquiring new gear with the guilt of consumption. Any brand which uses the opportunity presented by packaging to make us feel better about our purchase because we know the packaging won’t be harming the environment is both good and smart.
This isn’t just something big companies can do. For example, our friends at Editors Keys have just announced they will be using nothing but recyclable shipping packaging. This isn’t hard to do and if the smaller brands can manage it with some paper tape and some starch-based packing peanuts then surely the big brands can do the same?
Who in your experience has thought through what they are saying with what they choose to use as their packaging?