We've seen no shortage of packaging improvements by companies over the past decade, but these 10 packages and concepts represent some of the most innovative, far-reaching and promising efforts we've come across. In no particular order, here they are:
1. The Smallest Detergent Bottle
Method's squirt bottle for its 8x concentrated laundry detergent is a case of packaging and product going hand-in-hand. Because the detergent is much more concentrated than the typical 2x concentrated detergents, less is needed. To make sure that people don't overdo it when adding detergent to their laundry, Method decided to use a bottle that only lets out a certain amount of liquid with each pump.
Having a control like that in place helps people use exactly how much detergent they need to, cutting down on the overdosing that can happen from using the typical small caps with hard-to-read fill lines. As a bonus, the packaging is completely recyclable, made of commonly-recycled HDPE (identified by the resin code #2) and takes up significantly less space than other detergents.
Since Method's technology for making its 8x detergent is patent-pending, we might not see similar widespread use of such packaging, but we can always hope.
2. Frustration Free Packaging
Although Amazon.com's Frustration Free Packaging program isn't one type of packaging, it is an unprecedented initiative that offers two benefits: Packaging that's easier to open, and less packaging altogether.
The online retailer has worked with companies to help them reduce materials in packaging, cut out unnecessary plastic and bits like twist ties and swap out graphic-heavy boxes for plain cardboard boxes (the former of which is especially unnecessary for items being sold through a virtual storefront).
Frustration-Free Packaging was launched in time for the holiday shopping season in 2008 with 19 products, and Amazon.com now lists well over 300 products as coming in Frustration-Free Packaging. While a lot of those are items that have traditionally not been lumped in the frustrating category (Has it ever been that difficult to ship tea and tissues with minimal packaging?), Amazon has made worthwhile strides in getting toy and electronics companies to wrap up products in simpler packaging.
Amazon even added a packaging feedback form on its site to gather information from customers on the most excessively packed items and launched its own line of electronics and blank media called AmazonBasics, selling them only in Frustration-Free Packaging.
3. Arm & Hammer's Refill Bottles
While Arm & Hammer's Essentials refillable spray bottles with concentrated cleaning liquid are a standout innovation, the company unfortunately no longer offers these cleaners. It appears the products were phased out after only being available for a year, which is a shame since the packaging had such great potential for reducing impacts across the supply chain.
Each spray bottle was sold empty, with a small bottle of concentrated cleaner. To fill up the bottle, customers would need to add water, insert the small bottle, twist it so a special bit slits it open, and voila, you have homemade cleaners.
Each spray bottle could be used at least seven times. This innovation alone would lead to massive impacts, and exponentially so if it caught on at other brands. From substantially lighter shipments to huge savings in plastic used and thrown away, simply encouraging a reuse mindset among consumers would be enough to land this innovation on our list.
As a small consolation, we've come across at least one company, Ecodiscoveries, which sells a wide range of cleaners in similar refill packaging at specialty and health food stores.
4. Clamshell Alternatives
A few packaging companies - MeadWestvaco, CardPak and Winterborne - have developed alternatives that use drastically less plastic, replace PVC with more widely-recycled plastics, integrate recycled content and use recycled or sustainably sourced paper.
The basic premise is that the instead of a big plastic shell around a product, there is instead a smaller plastic case that fits snugly around the product, and paperboard is used to hold the plastic shell closed and secure.
More importantly that the packaging being developed, it's being used throughout Costco andSam's Club, and by companies like Swiss Army, Apple, Microsoft, Kodak, Neutrogena and many more.
5. HP's Boxless Laptop
Back in late 2008, Hewlett-Packard released a laptop that boasted having 97 percent less packaging than typical laptops. HP did it by packing the laptop and accessories in a messenger bag, and shipping multiple bags in large boxes to stores.
The laptop-in-a-bag was sold only through Walmart and Sam's Club, and while it was a one-off design, it was truly - pardon the horrible pun - out of the box thinking.
When someone is buying a laptop, they're likely going to want a way to carry it around. This combo provided a two-in-one solution for people who needed to get both at the same time.
In addition to the large reduction in materials, the laptop bags were made with 100 percent recycled fabric and took up less shipping spaced than laptops in typical boxes.