Think back to your childhood birthdays and any holiday involving presents. Those were the good old days, ay? Almost better than the gift that loved ones handed you was the simple anticipation of tearing through all of the packaging. If your parents, like mine, delighted in secretly torturing you, then you were probably no stranger to the box-within-a-box-within-yet-another-box strategy, punctuated with copious amounts of duct tape and/or recycled plastic shopping bags separating each layer. Apparently, today’s electronics manufacturers have unapologetically embraced this packaging technique because beyond the simple electronic device that you purchase, there’s a whole lot more going on. You can buy the beast of all flat-screen TVs or an itty-bitty cell phone and somehow, you’re almost always going to end up swimming in oodles of extraneous plastic clamshells, Styrofoam and/or cardboard layers. Between the materials used, the manufacturing process of the actual packaging, and (in some cases) the utter lack of recyclability, our environment ends up sustaining even more of an unnecessary burden (on top of the already typically short lifespan of the electronic gadgets within, many of which are rarely responsibly recycled). With that being said, it’s hard to blame electronics manufacturers for trying to ensure that their products reach the consumer without getting damaged, but it wouldn’t exactly kill their profit margins to use more sustainable or easily recyclable materials, either. Dell is demonstrating that it’s oh-so-doable with its ’shroomy Ecovative partnership, and if there’s one thing that those in the green wavelength know, it’s that doing right by the environment almost always ends up saving mucho dinero, too. A few ways to make today’s consumer electronics packaging easier on the planet include streamlining the actual size of the exterior/interior container(s), using 100% recycled post-consumer paper pulp boxes and/or cushioning filler material, putting the kibosh on Styrofoam all together (in favor of using extruded soy or mushroom-based alternatives) and making it easier for the end consumer to recycle the materials through incentive programs, creative DIY upcycling ideas printed on the inside of the carton or readily available, nationwide drop-off kiosks. Then again, electronics companies would be wise to look toward today’s designers, since they constantly strive to create innovative — or at the very least, far more practical — eco-solutions for our everyday packaging conundrums. Here are a few decidedly greener electronics packaging concepts that stand out in the crowd:
- Brett Allcorn, like many of his eco-design contemporaries, conceived a packaging design that makes recycling the exterior box effortless. By including a prepaid shipping label within, the consumer can once again tuck his or her gadget into the box that it originally came in (at the end of its useful life), stick the enclosed label on the outside and mail the whole kit and caboodle directly to an electronics recycler.
- Herald Ureña echoes Allcorn’s concept with his Motorola Eco Package, which reduces unnecessary packaging and recycling laziness by containing a cell phone and flexible solar charger inside a box that already has a prepaid shipping label emblazoned on it.
- Fans of Amazon’s Kindle have likely noted that the streamlined cardboard shipping container it comes in is made of an impressive 90% recycled paperboard content.
- HP’s ink cartridge packaging (made of recycled chipboard) also serves a dual purpose: to protect newbie ink while ensuring that once each cartridge is drained of its pigment, the consumer need only plunk it back in the box to be recycled.
- Recycled leather Imoeba iPod Cases are tucked into a paper carton using just 10% raw materials and 90% recycled landfill paper pulp.
- The recycled USB flash drives designed by Matt Ritchie — appropriately called Scrap Drives — are ensconced within earthy, handmade containers accompanied with unique ideas about how consumers can responsibly recycle their electronic gadgets.
- HP’s Pavilion dv6929 notebook set a new impressive eco-standard by curbing extraneous packaging by — brace yourself — 97%, simply by ditching the plastic, Styrofoam and cardboard in favor of cleverly tucking the slim laptop into a 100% recycled fabric “HP Protect Messenger Bag” instead. Which begs the question: Why isn’t this the norm rather than the exception?!