Toy packaging tarnishes Christmas sparkle

Listen to Ian debate this on Radio Newcastle with Jonathan Miles [Link]

So Christmas is over, and the news is pretty much the same as every other year – parents hate Christmas. And it’s not just because it’s a huge expense or because they have to figure out how to entertain their children during the school holidays.

No, a fair amount of the trouble comes from the difficulty of accessing toys through layers of tough plastic moulded packaging, twisty ties and screws, the danger of having to use scissors and knives in the process and the sheer waste of having so much of it to dispose of.

Just like other industries, toy makers need packaging to fulfil a range of functions. Toy packaging is created to be fit for purposes both as a vehicle to transport the product, in most instances from far afield and then to compete in a very competitive retail marketplace.

There is nothing sustainable about a product that does not sell.  All consumer packaging has a role in creating appeal, but toy packaging has a particular need to create delight and excitement in line with the toys inside. The challenge is to reduce the volume of packaging without diminishing the experience of seeing, choosing, trying (in some cases), receiving, anticipating and opening.

The truth is that packaging has to fulfil a complex mix of requirements for retailers, brand owners and consumers. This includes sensory appeal, a very broad demographic, high level branding and marketing, perceived value, and health and safety. To satisfy all of these requirements, a high level of technical design and commercial knowledge is required to deliver best practice. The result is that a consumer walking around a toy store today will see little obvious difference between the packs available now and those on the shelves two years ago.

From a design perspective, the real question is whether a brand owner or retailer will take a risk and reduce the size of their pack against a competitor’s rival product beside it on shelf. Until there is more clarity on the issue, parental pressure will still have a lot of influence. Some manufacturers are making improvements, but there is still a lot more that could be done.

The Less Packaging Company are independent and unbiased packaging design engineers who apply a unique design process called ‘pre-cycling’ which is about using foresight not hindsight to remove waste. Pre-cycling is an approach to packaging design, which measures and ensures that the right amount of packaging is used for the intended task whilst avoiding product damage and wastage. The process uses sustainable materials where possible, which can be made easily recycled everywhere. The packs were designed to optimise board usage and valuable space though the supply chain. Most toys and packaging are manufactured in Asia so every millimetre and gramme of packaging counts. Neither over nor under-packaging would have been acceptable so getting this balance right was an important factor in the development process.

According to Valpak’s figures, in the UK alone we send between £350-400 million of recovered packaging recycle-ate to landfill. We know that paper and board are the most widely recycled materials and in the UK we currently recycle over 85% of what is collected from homes and businesses. Compare this with plastics, for example, where only about a third of material is recycled. Therefore keeping packaging simple, mono-material where possible and not confusing people with complex recycling protocols is necessary.

This article was written by Ian (@portabud) who is  Board Director of the Less Packaging Company – Listen to Ian debate this on Radio Newcastle with Jonathan Miles [Link]

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