Designer Re-envisions Products Minus Bulky Packaging

By Wesley Fenlon

The products are packages themselves, potentially saving thousands of pounds of cardboard and plastic garbage from ending up in landfills.

When I order small things from Amazon--this week, an expanding file folder--I always feel a twinge of guilt opening up the box and pulling out the air bubble packing. It feels so wasteful. Amazon's tried to cut down on some packaging with its Frustration-free program, dumping obnoxious blister packages and other lumps of plastic in favor of simple, recycle cardboard. It's a step in the right direction, at least, but not as clever as designer Aaron Mickelson's Disappearing Package project.

In an interview at Wired, Mickelson explains his vision of disappearing packaging which is, in some way, a part of the package itself. For example, Glad trash bags normally come in a box, which Mickelson's site says adds up to 68 pounds of garbage per pallet. In Mickelson's design, the bags are rolled together and can be pulled out from the center one-by-one, while the final bag on the outside edge has a label printed on it for brand recognition. No box required.

Mickelson made physical prototypes of the Glad bags, Tide detergent pods, OXO Pop containers, Twinings tea, and Nivea bar soap. Each type of package is reinvented in a different way. The Twinings tea packets don't need a box because they're all attached together in an accordion style. The Nivea bar soap's box is water-soluble and washes away when you take it into the shower.

As awful as packaging is--according to the EPA's 2010 facts and figures, packaging represented the largest stake of our waste at 30 percent and 76 million tons--we're slowly improving. The Grocery Manufacturing Association says it has avoided 1.5 billion pounds of waste since 2005, and plans to save another 2.5 billion pounds by 2020 thanks to improved recycling and redesigned packages.

Mickelson's project could help lower that number even further, and with a clever designer's touch. Check out the rest of the products on Wired for a closer look at his colorful package-free future.