Now we all know this can't go on. The world of packaging has got to change - has already begun to change. The 20th century was the century of the expanding pack; I believe the 21st century will be the century of the vanishing pack.
For starters, packs could do a bigger selling job - for example, we could use technologies such as scratch `n' sniff or sound chips to tell consumers more about the product inside. Packs could be more functional - like the Halfords oil packs, which make the product easier to use. They're designed to be used on their side, so that you can reach the filler on your engine without pouring most of the oil down the front of the engine. But we could go further. Why not have capsules of oil, made of material that breaks down at engine temperatures? Then you could top up your oil in white gloves, if you wanted to.
Packages could have "smart" labels that react to product changes. For example, you could have "freshness packs" that tell you when the product has gone off. Or you could have "time limit" labels that fade away as the product passes its sell-by date.
In America they've launched hot drink bottles designed to go straight into the microwave. When you heat them, thermographic inks on the label reveal the word "HOT". So the package provides protection for the consumer - and, in the writ-happy USA, perhaps some legal protection for the manufacturer. You could use the same idea to show when baby foods are too cool or too hot.
Packages could take more account of the individual customer's needs. The growing number of old people round the world aren't going to be content with today's packaging standards. They're going to want smaller packs, easier to read labelling, containers that are easier to open, reseal and store. In America, we're already seeing new packaging concepts aimed specifically at older consumers - like cans with "T-bar" openers.
But these are adding complication, not removing it. So let's think more radically. If you want the pack to be minimalist but easy to open, why not blur the distinction between pack and product? Why not make the pack edible, for example?
You can spin sugar into nice strong shapes, so why not make it into a pack - let's say for cocoa, or cake mix. Tap it with a spoon to open it - and instead of throwing it away, you simply stir it into your cocoa or your cake mixture.
Today you can go into the supermarket and buy a pack of noodles. It's packed in transparent film, which has no rigidity, so the noodles break up in your bag going home. Yet we can make a rigid pack out of starch products, gelatine products - we could even make a box out of meat sauce. Put the whole pack into boiling water and voila! You have noodles in sauce. If you're concerned about hygiene, you could keep the transparent film, and wrap it around your solid-sauce pack.
Rigid food that forms its own pack is nothing new. If you dry slices of meat or pieces of fish to very low moisture levels, they'll become very hard. Here's a bit of salt cod from Portugal. Here's some beef jerky from South Africa. They're microbiologically safe - nothing can grow on them. You can cut them, glue them, and make them into a rigid box containing all the other ingredients for a stew.
Think about the banana and the orange: bio-packaging that's beautifully designed, multifunctional and vanishes when you've finished with it. If this is what nature can do, why aren't we asking for more?
We're heading for a multidimensional future. It's a home delivered, screen- based, recycled and biodegradable, floppy packed, genetically modified future. It won't have much use for the kind of pack designers we have today. Packaging isn't going to disappear. But we can't go on dumping and burying it. And, try as we might, we're not going to be able to recycle or biodegrade it all. We'll have to make less and less packaging work harder and harder. And we'll need real design alchemy to turn paper and plastic and glass into gold.Reuse content