Environmental protection and sustainability are among the most important issues of our times.
As packaging designers, we also bear responsibility. The packaging we design today impacts the sustainability of a product and thus the ecological footprint it will leave behind. Based on our experience in the industry, we have identified 6 keys to sustainable packaging design:


1. Sustainable packaging material


These days paper, plastic, aluminum, glass and innovative plant-based packaging materials offer a multitude of material alternatives. Right at the beginning, of course, we have to ask ourselves which requirements the product demands from the packaging. The ressource and energy requirements of the material production as well as the material’s weight during transportation have an impact on the carbon footprint. The decisive factor is to select the ideal and thus most sustainable material for each product requirement. Furthermore it is crucial to use materials that stem from the recycling cycle.


2. Simple recyclability


Ideally, the combination of different materials should be avoided in the design process. Instead recyclability can be guaranteed with monomaterials. Material combinations are acceptable if the different materials can be separated. Through appealing and easy-to-understand explanations on the labels, consumers can be involved in the recycling cycle as only the correct disposal of the products can lead to recyclability.


3. Efficient shape design


Let’s stay with the shampoo bottle as an example. If, for example, we use a flow pack instead of the traditional bottle, we can reduce CO2 emissions. But also changes in shape, like a smaller cap, can help with CO2 reductions. Furthermore the products‘ shape can make a big difference during transport. If bottles are designed smartly, they can be packed in the most space-saving way possible. By doing so, less air is transported during subsequent transport and the carbon footprint can be reduced.


4. Sustainable printing processes


Printing, too, offers the opportunity for a more sustainable packaging design. The use of paint, solvents, production waste and energy can be reduced and saved. The advantages and disadvantages of the various printing processes, which also depend heavily on the production quantities, must of course be weighed up in advance.


5. Smart use of finishes


If foil finishes are planned for a product, the positioning of the label should be carefully considered. If, for example, the finishing is only to be applied at the upper and lower edges of the label, it is still necessary to apply a transfer foil of the same size as the entire label. Therefore it needs to be ensured that the design is as resource-efficient as possible. Furthermore, it is recommended to choose a manufacturer who offers recyclable transfer foils.


6. Mindful colour choice


The right colour choice can determine whether a product is perceived as sustainable or not. Thus, it can be beneficial to showcase the use of recycled materials. For example, a mixed base material, opaque transparency or off-shades can be used deliberately as stylistics elements.
However, if a different look is required, recyclability should be considered. In some facilities black labels or products cannot be detected by the sorting lasers, which means the products will be excluded from the recycling cycle. Although some progress has been made in the development of sorting facilities, there are still major regional differences. Thus, the use of black labels and bottles remains a critical aspect that requires consideration.

To sum up, in total these 6 keys for sustainable packaging design – materials, recylability, shape design, printing process, finishing, and colour choice – can make a great difference. They should therefore be considered throughout the entire design process. This way, as packaging designers we can contribute largely to a sustainable lifestyle by designing intelligent and future-oriented products.


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