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or Redesign?

A study of waste produced by a consumer driven nation. Kory McNail

Kory McNail 2010

This book is made of reclaimed materials. Paper: Advance Auto Parts thrown away because they have a new printer

Ink: Int’l Power Systems printer thrown away because it didn’t print fast enough

cardboard and duct tape found in the trash.

Everyone buys products for one reason or another, our nations economy is based on this idea. As a nation however we are spending frivolous amounts of money that we do not have on things that we do not need. As a result, manufacturers compete for your business by using advertising, product placement in popular media and flashy package designs. You want that new product, but what do you do with the package it came in? Like the rest of America you will probably just throw it away or at best recycle it. This is filling up landfills and destroying our natural resources by using excessive plastic & cardboards. Some manufacturers are aware of this trend and trying to combat it, but at best they are only placing a Band-Aid™ on a gushing wound. We, as the consumers, need to take actions against unethical business practices and corporations that exist only to make the quick buck.

The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard. — Gaylord Nelson

former governor of Wisconsin, co-founder of Earth Day

Billions of dollars are spent each year by companies to promote their goods and services in high traffic locations. Why do manufacturers insist on using extravagant packages that are quickly discarded after the product is removed? Product packages exist for two reasons, the first is to protect the product inside. From food to delicate electronics the product needs to be protected in shipping and while on the shelf. In retail stores the package also needs to protect the product from theft and other hazards inside the store. What if a forklift hits a box of products? A fire sprinkler head malfunctions or just a simple fall from the top shelf. The second reason is a little more complicated than just protection. That package must stand out against all of its competitors on the shelf and sell itself to you in seconds. The materials that the package is made from can influence our idea of the product, both good and bad. The outside of the package is filled with flashy typefaces and illustrations. It states reasons why this product is better than the one beside it, and all of them have the one thing a product can be without, a bar code.

Each of these products will also be in hundreds of different stores all with different shelves. If there is no standard then custom fixtures will have to be used, who is going to pay the extra money to build, ship and install fixtures? In the end, you are.

Every product that is made to be purchased need some way to interact with an inventory system and a point of sales system. Have you ever been in a store when the computers go down? All business will almost come to a halt. A store that depends of the sales of products must have an efficient solution so they can track the products they have bought, know when they need to order more of which products and know how much to charge their customers so that the cycle can continue. After the product is safely in the home of the targeted demographic, is the package still needed? Instruction sheets are usually included for the new gadget and after the food is made the directions on the package are useless. A mass of plastic, paper and other packaging filler is discarded into the consumers trash bin. Its hauled away and put into landfills or in some rare cases sorted into a recycling center.

This is the amount of packaging for a single wiper blade. New cars have between 2 and 4 wipers, so for each vehicle when you replace the wipers you will produce 2 to 4 times this amount of trash. If wiper blades are designed to handle the harsh environment of daily driving then why do they need so much protection on a store shelf?

This has been the business model since the invention of retail stores, buy in volume, sell to make a profit and minimize waste to maximize profits. Retail product packaging accounts for 1/3 of all commercial waste, if the expense of the package was lower would it result in lower prices for products inside? In 2006, General Mills recycled 86% of its solid waste, earning more from that than it spent on disposal. Did this lower the price of its goods? No, you still pay around four dollars for a few cents worth of cereal. Amazon has tried to find a solution to this frivolous packaging, only to add its own flavor of overzealous packaging. Christmas of 2008 Amazon introduced hassle free packaging delivery, a service where someone would open all the clamshell compressed plastic packages and remove toys that were fastened into packages with nuts and bolts. In the course of doing this some items arrived without important instructions that were printed on the packages and a very unintended effect, a box full of new toys looked like used or second hand toys. To compound the problem, the items were individually wrapped and plastic air bags were inserted for safe transportation to consumers homes.

New box of toys? Hand me down toys from other family members? The boxes were still filled with plastic air bags to protect the toys in transit, effectively trading off one plastic protection for another.

They essentially unpackaged products and put several of the items into a new package and added extra materials do the job the original packaging was designed to do in the first place. The intentions were good, but poorly executed. The primary culprit was the fused plastic packages found securing smaller high dollar products. This type of package does an amazing job of keeping the product safe in the store from most hazards, especially shoplifters. However the package is responsible for hundreds of emergency room visits every year as the consumer tries to cut, burn or saw the plastic casket open. The package is to protect the product, not maim the consumer. Rather than find a creative solution to the package problem, companies have developed special tools to help clerks open these packages safely. This is not a solution. Do we really need packages? As a consumer you only want the product inside, with the rising trend of online purchases the consumer never interacts with the package until it arrives at their house.

According to a 2003 University of Sheffield study, 70,000 people in the United Kingdom seek treatment in emergency rooms each year because of accidents while opening the package.

The website itself becomes an overall package, as long as it is well designed and intuitive to the consumers needs. It must be able to allow the consumer to compare similar items and offer feedback by other consumers on their experiences with this product. This forces the consumer to do their own research and make an informed decision. If, however, it’s hard to navigate or there are no images of the products its the equivalent of going into a store that has no retail floor, but rather a counter and products that are fetched by request only. Items would have to be chosen by the opinion of the clerk (website) and you would be at the mercy of what you have heard about the product (consumer reviews). Does this idea eliminate the need for packages? In some cases yes, as far as the consumer is concerned. They have their product, it is ready to be used and they have a sense of accomplishment that they have secured the product that was right for them based on their research. Auto part stores operate this way, rows of numbered boxes fetched by counter people.

Have you ever had a salesman tell you something completely wrong just to make the sell? When shopping online the consumer must do their own research to make sure the product fits their needs and is going to do what they want it to do. With this data, stores can stock only products that people want and not fill their shelves with what a computer thinks people will want.

When a starter is ordered it is shipped in a box, but the consumer doesn’t take the box with them. The consumer has to leave their old starter at the store and the clerk ships the “core” starter back to the warehouse where he got the starter from. The consumer brings in a dirty, broken part and leaves with clean new part. They didn’t see the package, only the picture of the part on the computer and a price. This eliminates the second need of packaging, but this is a very specific situation where it would be an effective solution. The rising trend in online gaming has also eliminated the need for a traditional package, all you receive is a code through email to put in at a particular interface and your character will be given the newest cool item. Some of the massive multiplayer online games (MMORPG’s) do not have a “finished” outcome, there will always be something to keep players in the game. Lets say you want to sell some of your items in that game that you have spent days to collect, the most common item sold is the in game currency itself.

Palletized products to be shipped back to a warehouse. The plastic wrap is again used to protect and keep the products safe in shipping. There is still an excess in materials used but the idea is a good start. Consumers don’t want the box, and will gladly give you back the old parts so they don’t have to dispose of it themselves.

World of Warcraft Gold is currently be sold for US $45.54 per 10000 gold. There are independent business that maintain parlors full of young people that have just one job, to farm gold in the game so it can be sold through their web site. More demand causes prices to go up, such as a new patch for the game or a new chapter is released and players are racing to be the first to get new in game items. The gold farmers are not in the united states, China maintains the largest gold farms in the world with close to a half million people making their living by farming virtual items. There are no shipping charges, packages and virtually no waiting. The popular gold farms have characters on every server in the game and can get you as much gold as you want to pay for in as little as 5 minutes. This could be formatted to work with anything that can be turned into 1’s and 0’s. Any software, programs, apps, and written works can be translated to a computer in some way. If you buy a book online there is the option to have it delivered instantly in the form of an ebook. As an ebook you can start reading it right away instead of waiting for the book to arrive in the mail.

Gold, money or items can be bought and sold 24 hours a day from this site. They will even play your game and make your characters stronger for you. The prices will change based on supply and demand, very similar to our stock markets.

Are the values of digital goods any less than their physical counterparts? Should the ebook version of Tom Clancy’s latest book be cheaper than a hard copy? You are saving the publisher the cost of ink, paper, binding, shipping, shouldn’t that be taken into consideration when figuring the final price? Readers such as the Kindle from Amazon and the nook from Barnes & Noble have become extremely popular among readers of all ages. With these readers you can download thousands of books in minutes, never loose your place while reading and virtually never run out of room to keep your collection. Both readers have wifi versions as well as 3g versions so you will never be without access to the newest books or publications. The cost of the books however is the surprising statistic, most average just one or two dollars less than its physical counterpart. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six sells on Amazon currently for $8.99 paperback, $18.45 hardcover, $21.09 for the audio book and $7.99 for kindle. Why would you pay $8 for a virtual copy of a book when for 1 dollar more you could have the real thing.

You can get your book in almost any format today, if your willing to pay for it. Are you comfortable owning just a digital copy of a book? Paperback books don’t require batteries, license agreements and special hardware.

Many people will state it is just personal preference, but maybe the medium is still too young to have secured its price point. A lot of effort goes into writing a novel such as Rainbow Six and the author should be compensated accordingly, but the reality of the internet age is many traditional steps can be skipped. A book will still take the author the same amount of time to write, but after its written he can completely bypass the packaging process by cutting out the publishing company. The miles of red tape, contracts, financial planning meetings, everything. For just a few dollars a month a virtual copy can be sold from a web site, this is a very effective method for spreading their work in a fraction of the time it would have taken using traditional practices. While this seems a great solution for some products, there is one major problem with distributing goods online. Pirates. Since these goods are just copies of the original, after they are distributed to the public what is to stop them from sending another copy to their friends. This is another reason the Kindle and Nook were introduced, they become the package that protects the product.

With the right software, a person can acquire thousands of ebooks in a few minutes. Ebook readers have to function as the package for the digital goods, protecting them from thieves. Codes and embedded data communicate with the reader so illegal copies can not be viewed on the device.

When the book is downloaded it is in a format that only these readers can decode, and that reader links with the file so that it can only be read by that particular reader. In these cases, the consumer is actually paying the company to buy the package and the products. This is a very cleaver technique, using this as a template has another intended effect. The company once again has the power to regulate what can be downloaded to their respected devices. If a person has acquired an ebook from a friend they will not be able to load the file onto the device, as it is not from a licensed source such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, publishers, ect. This introduces a new type of package design problems, computers might not be compatible with readers or limited to specific operating systems (Windows vs OS X). The consumer has paid money for this virtual item, now how do you get it to them?

For all your reading needs, if you want anything ever written head over to the “nook� at your local Barnes & Noble. In actuality only writings encoded in the last few years will be available. Once the ebook is loaded onto your nook, it is only viewable on that device. Did they just redesign the book? Does it help with packaging?

The consumer happy is the end all desired result. If the customer is not happy the company should not be happy. We know this is not always the case in our consumer society but business are quick to catch on to the fact that happy consumers are repeat consumers. Someone that has received stitches from trying to open a package of mini-DV’s will probably never buy that brand again. A single bad experience with a package can cause consumers to avoid anything packaged similarly and actively seek out alternative products. Many retailers that also have an online presence are adopting a frustration free package design. If you order the product from the website you will see a picture of its shelf identity but instead of a plastic and cardboard blister pack you will receive just a simple brown cardboard box with the product inside. has been working on this since the holiday season of 2008 and it is starting to spread to the manufacturers instead of just other retailers.

Still a bit on the excessive side for such a small product, but at least you don’t have to saw open a clamshell package to get to your SD card. This works great for online purchases but what about for products in a store?

Other retailers such as and Walmart. com have not adopted this practice even with the availability of over 600 products they already sell having a frustration free version. Now we have packages that are full of products but have been branded by the retailer selling the products. The phrases Batteries or the Toys�r�us stuffed animals have replaced Duracell and Beanie Baby, watering down the brand these companies have worked so hard to build. There are several examples that you use on a daily basis, have you ever asked for a Kleenex or a Band-Aid? These are trademark names that have replaced the product in our daily society. This is known as becoming a genericized trademark. When the brand name has replaced the goods or service the trademarked name is in danger of becoming generic. Many items along with their brands have fallen victim to this, and are still paying the price. Clorox Bleach bottles are so distinctive that anything put inside of them besides bleach will not sell very well, if at all.

Would you recognize the brand of both packages in the store? Do you call them batteries, copper tops, duracells?

Colgate wanted to branch out from toothpaste, they decided that since their toothpaste sold so well they would focus on what causes teeth to get dirty in the first place, eating. They introduced an entire line of Colgate Dinner Entrees, which sat on retail shelves until their expiration dates. Colgate replaced toothpaste in the eyes of consumers and when they saw the red and white logo on a box of food, their only thought was about toothpaste. Companies today are still mending their advertising to avoid becoming generic, but at the same time they fight with other products for dominance in their respected markets. The way they fight is with packages, advertising and product placement in popular culture. They use any number of new and creative gimmicks to get you in a store and put their product in your hands. The store shelves are battlefields, the packages are soliders fighting for your attention and the packages are winning.

Quick easy to prepare meals or minty fresh aftertaste? If you have built a good brand it my not transfer to other products. Kleenex, for example, will never be able to use their brand name for sandpaper. It will destroy what they have created for facial tissue and not move any sandpaper because of their reputation for softness.

Most business tend to forget that if the consumer does not actively purchase their goods, they will not make a profit. The economy of the United States is not in good shape and consumers are becoming smarter about the goods and services they choose to spend money on. What makes the pen you spend $150 on better than the $1 pen? The package might make it look more sleek or modern but does it function any different? To bring in more people auto part stores will take back most waste items from your car, oil, antifreeze, batteries, tires. They will also try to sell you items to replace what you have disposed of. What happens to the waste? They send it back to a recycling center. Recycling is not the end-all solution, it is only a temporary fix for the larger problem. If we produced less waste there would be less need to recycle and landfills would not fill up as quickly. The larger problem is that humans are reactive, not proactive. Meaning, we will not start looking for a solution until the problem becomes an inconvenience to enough of the people responsible for the mess in the first place. In the late 1980’s a steel mill in Gary, Indiana was faced with a dilemma.

Batteries are stacked three layers high on pallets to be shipped to a Johnson Controls warehouse where they will be broken down into lead, acid and plastic. Anything that can be reused will be, everything else will be disposed of either by fire or in a landfill. Three thousand stores ship at least one if not two pallets of batteries back once a week.

Their plant produced toxic fumes, there was equipment available to combat the fumes but it was very expensive. They tied up the issue in court as long as the could and the mill was finally ordered to install the equipment or pay a fine of $1000 per day that the mill was functioning. The fine for the year was cheaper than the cost of the equipment so the mill’s lawyers signed over a check for $365,000 stating Here is our fine for next year. This is not the way manufacturers should be allowed to operate, and as consumers we should not support business with these practices. The United States of America is a consumer based nation, we import more goods and services than any other country and export very few of the products produced within the border. The by-products of a consumer driven economy is waste, both from production of goods and the produced good that are imported. Even with digital goods there is a package of some sort needed to trade them effectively and with that new waste is created. Of course no one wants to buy a product that is broken or banged up from shipping, but is there a better way of take care of the waste that accompanies safe shipping?

Five childrens books, shipped from Amazon. All from the same warehouse and all ordered at the same time. The answer to this is not recycling, but rather a redesign on the way products are shipped to us. We need a human interaction that is lacking somewhere in this process.

Solutions? Products could be built on demand so store shelves are not filled with unwanted products. Poorly designed branding campaigns can be avoided with better market research. Packages could be designed to be mailed back to the company after the product is removed, placing the focus on the advertising campaign and not just shelf presence. Can the package double as something else useful or even be a part of the product, food packages that are actually an ingredient in the meal itself, soy paper that dissolves in boiling water that contains the flavoring. Cell phone cases are a common add-on item in the store and helps protect the phone in the hands of the consumer, why do they need to come in separate packages? These ideas sound ludicrous, but as consumers we must be proactive. We must let our dollars speak for us and make informed decisions about the things we own before the things start owning us. If we continue to live at the mercy of vulturous companies and a legal system that is full of corporate loopholes we will not come out on top. Conduct your own due diligence on the companies you choose to support.

Where will your waste go?

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Baskind, Chris. “5 Ways to Fight Retail Overpackaging.” Mother Nature Network 13 Apr 2010: n. pag. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <>. “Inventory Control Systems.” Second edition. Encyclopedia for Business, 2010. Web. <>. The Plastic Littered World of Overpackaging. N.p., 22 Oct 2010. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <>. Shear, Richard. “The Fourth Dimension of Package Design.” Die Line n. pag. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <>. Wann, David. “Negotiating the future by design - nature-based design.” bnet The CBS Interactive Business Network. whole earth review, 01 Oct 1995. Web. 22 Oct 2010. < ai_17922534/>. Jeannette, Yen. “History.” Center for Biologically Inspired Design (2008): n. pag. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <>. Anthony, Rick. GrassRoots Recycling Network. Cotati, CA: , Web. 22 Oct 2010. <>.

Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design October 2010 Kory McNail 2010

Recycle or Redesign  

This is my final thesis with associated images. Written 2010 for Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. Instructor--Martin Mendlesberg