The Disappearing Package isn't disappearing quickly enough
February 18, 2013 11:07 AM   Subscribe

The Disappearing Package. Designer Aaron Mickelson wants to solve the problem of excess packaging, by creating products that have no packaging at all.

These designs inspired a Scientific American blogger to propose that delivery services like UPS start providing reusable shipping supplies to retailers like Amazon.

While Amazon's Frustration-Free Packaging initiative has been in place since 2008, 2 years later, according to the New York Times, only about 600 products were offered in frustration-free versions. Not to mention the over 20 products specifically designed to open packages offered on Amazon (several sold in their own blister packs).

3M is now marketing 4 new products intended to help people reuse cardboard boxes for shipping. However, the USPS still prints "Priority Mail" on the inside of their boxes, and states that "Turning the packaging inside out to conceal the Priority Mail / Express Mail insignia is specific misuse that is not allowed."

Shanghai, however, today passed a law to limit excess packaging.
posted by still_wears_a_hat (40 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd really like to see more done to limit packaging; most of it is ultimately just waste, and I don't see the point.
posted by byanyothername at 11:22 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


yes yes yes yes YES

Start with making clamshell packaging illegal (no, that's not hyperbolic, I'm 100% serious). Work upward from there.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2013 [16 favorites]


The shipping container model might apply here, though you'd want a variety of sizes. Shipper could offer the option of a standardized durable corrugated plastic box with a positive closure, sealed with tamper-evident tape. The deposit is added to your shipping cost, or with a decent B2B interface you could authorize it through a UPS account you already have.

You leave the box out for the UPS guy the next time you get something delivered, he scans it and your deposit is refunded or credited. Obviously there needs to be a lot of collaboration between UPS and the vendor for this to work.

Unfortunately this starts to sound like work and most people aren't offended enough by cardboard boxes for anything very complicated to fly.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:26 AM on February 18, 2013


The Priority Mail boxes can be fixed with a little creative spraypaint...

I mean, if a person wanted to do such a thing.
posted by deezil at 11:27 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"You know that Pepperidge Farm bread, that stuff is fancy. That stuff is wrapped twice. You open it, and then still ain't open."
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:28 AM on February 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


Amazon is shipping packaging-opening tools to open the very packaging that it comes in? Mind=blown. The triumphs of capitalism!
posted by deathpanels at 11:30 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


They should just wire the packaging with explosive bolts. You enter a code in a free smartphone app to blow it open.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:32 AM on February 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's like it's wearing nothing at all! nothing at all! nothing at all! nothing at all!
posted by Jpfed at 11:32 AM on February 18, 2013


I remember hearing that in Germany, people would protest excessive packaging by taking the products out of the package and leaving the trash at the storefront's front door, but I wasn't sure if that was a thing or not. I thought it was kind of brilliant.
posted by hellojed at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


While Amazon's Frustration-Free Packaging initiative has been in place since 2008, 2 years later, according to the New York Times, only about 600 products were offered in frustration-free versions.

I once ordered a single SD card in Amazon's frustration-free packaging. I was delighted to receive such minimal packaging, just a slim cardboard sleeve with the item inside. Perfect!

Next time I ordered 50 SD cards. I received 50 slim cardboard sleeves stuffed into a larger cardboard sleeve. Er.
posted by odinsdream at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


However, the USPS still prints "Priority Mail" on the inside of their boxes, and states that "Turning the packaging inside out to conceal the Priority Mail / Express Mail insignia is specific misuse that is not allowed."

That link is broken and I'm really curious why on earth USPS wouldn't want people re-using their boxes.
posted by straight at 11:53 AM on February 18, 2013


(oh, never mind, it's working now)
posted by straight at 11:54 AM on February 18, 2013


I was really excited about buying my food packaging free until I got pantry bugs.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:54 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm really curious why on earth USPS wouldn't want people re-using their boxes.

It's not so much the reuse issue as that they provide the boxes for free and don't want to encourage people to just take them from the post office for non-Priority Mail purposes.
posted by asperity at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


You leave the box out for the UPS guy the next time you get something delivered, he scans it and your deposit is refunded or credited. Obviously there needs to be a lot of collaboration between UPS and the vendor for this to work.

I'm not sure if the overhead there would make it ultimately more efficient than just recycling all of the boxes.

We do a lot of our shopping online. It's very convenient, and I think it's also not significantly worse for the planet. (Compare making a lot of individual trips to stores in a mostly-empty car to a mostly-full truck running a highly optimized delivery route.) But some weeks our (full-size) recycling bin runneth over with cardboard, and Amazon is definitely one of the worst offenders. It habitually sends small items in gigantic boxes padded out with airbags, which, much more than the actual packaging, strikes me as a colossal waste for everyone involved.
posted by jedicus at 12:02 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing that online retail offers the opportunity for, and no one really takes advantage of it, is the opportunity for no packaging beyond a simple lightweight wrapper or sleeve made of the bottom-of-the-food-chain paper. If it doesn't have to survive in a retail environment, and doesn't have to sell itself, why bother?
posted by maxwelton at 12:17 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure if the overhead there would make it ultimately more efficient than just recycling all of the boxes.

Yeah, and now that I think about it, space on a delivery truck has a significant economic value -- they wouldn't want to fill it with returned boxes, even if they were cleverly stackable when open, particularly if they came in multiple sizes, which they'd have to unless you wanted your SD card to come in a home-gym box.

Also, they'd have to steam clean them, because bedbugs.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:21 PM on February 18, 2013


You can trace the origins of over-packaging to the Tylenol Scare. It scared the shit out of a nation of consumers. The fear spread beyond OTC medication to all retail goods.
posted by klarck at 12:26 PM on February 18, 2013


You can trace the origins of over-packaging to the Tylenol Scare. It scared the shit out of a nation of consumers.

In medicine, maybe. Most overpackaging now is a result of manufacture overseas/securing and protecting products inside shipping containers that get banged around without having to use a lot of packing materials. The clamshell keeps the whatever from being easily crushed or busted.
posted by emjaybee at 12:28 PM on February 18, 2013


I was really excited about buying my food packaging free until I got pantry bugs.

Obligatory Portlandia link.


This post reminds me of the reusable moving box concept. Great idea, but not really cost effective enough to become the norm. Cardboard is still cheap, and most people don't really care about the waste or think that recycling is just as good as reducing/reusing.
posted by payoto at 12:28 PM on February 18, 2013


I'd really like to see more done to limit packaging; most of it is ultimately just waste, and I don't see the point.


Everything is ultimately just waste.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:29 PM on February 18, 2013


Is it just me or are most of the "high design" examples on the Disappearing Package just terrible, terrible design. Both the Tide and Nivea products use water soluble exteriors. So if you carry them out of the shop in the rain you're going to have lubricant/irritant all over you by the time you get home. Put them in a shopping bag with a frozen product and water will condense and you have the same problem. Terrible. And the laundry detergent - not exactly a "safe" product. Similar water soluble pods are used in dishwashers and are I seen people call for bans because small children have been seriously injured by chemical burns. So yeah, this designer loves the idea of water soluble packages / printing / whatever. But its not a good idea.
posted by samworm at 12:40 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


..to propose that delivery services like UPS start providing reusable shipping supplies to retailers like Amazon.

I don't understand. I reuse cardboard boxes from Amazon all the time. I reuse lots of boxes. I have a whole closet full of boxes ready to reuse. I call it my storage closet.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:48 PM on February 18, 2013


Just before Christmas time, I dropped and broke a Fiestaware bowl. I had to special-order the replacement from Macy's.

The 7 x 2" bowl arrived inside a 15.5 cu.ft. box, surrounded by North America's entire supply of bubble pack. Shipping was free, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:55 PM on February 18, 2013


As the designer, assembler, builder and bottle washer of low packaging products, I can say that it is difficult and requires forethought and creativity to design and make something that can use less packaging. It's worth it though.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 1:07 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


So yeah, this designer loves the idea of water soluble packages / printing / whatever. But its not a good idea.

No, it's bad execution currently, the idea is great.
posted by Cosine at 1:07 PM on February 18, 2013


The 7 x 2" bowl arrived inside a 15.5 cu.ft. box, surrounded by North America's entire supply of bubble pack.

Vintage Medium Green Fiesta? I had one of those bowls, it was appraised at $800. I dropped it and broke it. I probably would have shipped it in a wooden crate.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:15 PM on February 18, 2013


I was a little disappointed that "The Disappearing Package" wasn't an article about koro.
posted by usonian at 1:20 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Vintage Medium Green Fiesta?
No, not vintage. About 10 years old. Cost about $7 to replace.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:30 PM on February 18, 2013


I prefer downloading brain firmware mods that give me the satisfaction of owning a thing without the clutter of actually owning it. Why spend tens of dollars on an actual pair of pants when for a $1.99 you can install the unshakable belief that you're wearing pants?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:37 PM on February 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


One thing that online retail offers the opportunity for, and no one really takes advantage of it, is the opportunity for no packaging beyond a simple lightweight wrapper or sleeve made of the bottom-of-the-food-chain paper. If it doesn't have to survive in a retail environment, and doesn't have to sell itself, why bother?

The "2 years later..." link addresses this, at least in part: There's generally an added overhead in using 2 different kinds of packaging, one for online retail and one for meatspace retail. This is not necessarily insurmountable, but it's a nontrivial added inefficiency that does eat into profits.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:58 PM on February 18, 2013


"It's not so much the reuse issue as that they provide the boxes for free and don't want to encourage people to just take them from the post office for non-Priority Mail purposes."

Yeah, this is really the eBay effect. I personally know a few people who probably went through hundreds and hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of inside-out USPS boxes in support of their eBay business before the boxes changed.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:26 PM on February 18, 2013


Old but good.

Look for the pineapple, a natural object that is already packaged and not at all easy to open.

I gave myself a cut last week slicing into an onion, another natural object that also has an user-unfriendly wrapping (opening it makes you cry)

I think first prize should go to the coconut. Every so often I see these in the grocery and fantasize about buying one, then I remember how hard they are to get into. Objects you eat should not require a carpenter's drill and a chisel.
posted by bad grammar at 2:59 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think first prize should go to the coconut. Every so often I see these in the grocery and fantasize about buying one, then I remember how hard they are to get into. Objects you eat should not require a carpenter's drill and a chisel.

First prize is definitely the crab. First you have to catch them without getting pinched, then you have to crack them open without slicing your hand, then dig through tiny tiny little cavities for the tiniest scraps of meat, avoiding the pieces that are going to make you sick, and you end up with less than a mouthful of food.
posted by odinsdream at 3:10 PM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have to agree with samworm. It is just a bad idea. Well, minimal packaging is a great idea. Packaging that disappears is great, if it were possible for matter to disappear from this universe. Melty packaging that you have to wash down the drain is a bad idea. Packaging that serves itself rather than the product it contains is a bad idea.

Ultimately this is just packaging that you throw away in a different fashion. My garbage 'disappears' when I shut the lid on the bin. Doesn't mean I didn't throw it away. Tires 'disappear' when you burn them; don't mind the noxious smoke. Just because you washed this packaging down the drain, doesn't mean you didn't throw it away. It means that you used clean water to do it. It means that you can't sort it into a recycling bin, or repurpose it or re-use it. It means that the burden has just been shifted to waste-water management instead of solid-waste management. You could theoretically start flushing your compostables, but my guess is that you won't help the environment by doing it. The amount of material is small in these designs, but it all demands to be dissolved in quantities of water. So you are diluting the half-ounce of packaging into a pound and a half of water that has to be transported and treated.

The Nivea concept is just plain bad design, regardless of the high concept. He's designed a hexagonal box "to prevent the consumer from absentmindedly tearing open the package." He's increased the actual amount of packaging to serve his concept. Less of those hexagons will fit in a square pallet, meaning that they can ship less soap per truck. This is in order to make the packaging harder to open. So that you have to wash your soap before you can use it.

The designer says that these concepts are presented "to expand the conversation on sustainable packaging." That is fine, we are talking about it now, so he cleared that bar. However, the designer presents almost no ideas about how his designs are actually sustainable. He seems to believe that these materials will cease to exist upon contact with water. He's added up the weights of the 'old' packages, but presents no estimates for his new designs. He's managed to ignore most of the functional purpose of packaging other than the ability to put a logo on it. This is greenwashing, and it is about selling more, not saving anything,
posted by iloveit at 4:04 PM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some of the frustration free stuff on Amazon is also quite a bit more expensive than the regular version, last thing I ordered would've been 30% or so more.
posted by aerotive at 4:32 PM on February 18, 2013


> I remember hearing that in Germany, people would protest excessive packaging by taking the products out of the package and leaving the trash at the storefront's front door

No, that was a thing. It ended up being enshrined in the whole Gr√ľner Punkt waste reduction directive. Manufacturers were responsible for reclaiming all of their packaging as part of EPR.

I think Newark are about the worst for packaging. Their smallest box is 330x245x220 mm. Order 10 chiclet-sized microcontrollers? That's the size of your package - 330x245x220 mm. I've had things triple-boxed from them.
posted by scruss at 6:47 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


bad grammar: "I think first prize should go to the coconut. Every so often I see these in the grocery and fantasize about buying one, then I remember how hard they are to get into. Objects you eat should not require a carpenter's drill and a chisel."

Coconuts are the ultimate awesome food: the best way to open them is with a machete! Though keeping a machete in your kitchen sometimes gets weird looks from visitors, which is why I keep mine in my office, instead.
posted by barnacles at 9:04 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


We keep a hatchet in the kitchen 'cause it's the lady's favorite way to open up a squash.
posted by echo target at 7:17 AM on February 19, 2013


I bought some printer ink from costco, in which the three packages of ink were encased in a giant plastic thing, and then each one had a box, which was shrinkwrapped, and inside the box was a foil packet, and inside the foil packet was a set of instructions. And printed on the cardboard insert in the giant plastic thing was 'now with less packaging!'

I can only assume those fuckers used to come in a hand carved mahogany chest.

Which would, at least, justify the price of printer ink.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


« Older walking on your shit......  |  Arrested for carrying condoms?... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments