Pedaling Backwards to Save the Future: Recycling Past Ideas for Sustainable Packaging

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Bad hair, dubious fashion, political instability and lurid wallpaper define a decade that’s easy to dismiss.

But amidst the many sartorial hiccups were delicious pockets of cool: The Chopper complete with banana seat, central gear stick and high handle bars shiny with attitude; the bright orange Spacehopper inflated with fun; the supersonic hook-nosed airplane that was quite literally faster than sound.

And for those of us who grew up in the 70s (with the incriminating photos to prove it…) there is a curious affection for a simpler time. A time before marketers convinced us we needed water from bottles; a time before we felt entitled to strawberries in December and Turkey in June; a time when ‘time to get up’ was heralded by the reassuring clink of glass and the whirr of the electric milk float. And derided as that decade is, we are now looking to consumer habits of old in an attempt to change consumer behaviours of the future. Having finally woken up to the catastrophic cost of throwaway consumerism, brands are gearing up for less. Less packaging, less waste, less guilt.

Waitrose recently bagged positive headlines when they trialled its ‘bring your own container’ movement – waving farewell to an array of plastic packaging and offering more loose fruit and veg. And for those too ‘time-poor’ to rake over veg booty and bag it themselves, Waitrose dropped a few cheeky incentives offering 15% discount on the naked version. Clothing still optional but a seductive start nonetheless.

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Tesco and French supermarket Carrefour said they would trial an online shopping service with refillable containers with the emergence of zero-waste shops yet another modern day nod to bygone days.

As inventors, marketers, designers, we’re part of the problem. We create stuff to make people want to buy stuff. We’re in the business of desire. The standout packaging, the tactile bottle, the stories that engage and entice. If you’re in the business of brand – then chances are you’re in someway culpable and it’s time for agencies to make up for past sins. How? By being smarter, pushing back, saying ‘no’, remembering how it was and how it could be again, striving to be truly innovative or maybe just blazing new trails by taking a purposeful stroll down well trodden paths….

Which brings me back to the much-lamented milk float. A once 40,000 strong zero emission battery operated delivery system with returnable reusable glass packaging and the most cost effective lightweight foil micro cap. A shining example from the past, that social entrepreneurs are looking to and replicating in an attempt to get back to the future.

We recently collaborated with new venture Loop – a brilliant initiative that brings the old- school milk float idea into the modern era and modernizes it to make it appealing to a whole new generation. And if you haven’t checked it out, I urge you to do so. You get to shop for big brand products that get delivered to your door in upgraded reusable packaging. They then pick up, refill and back it comes. Sound familiar?

Working with Loop to create durable re-usable structures was a challenge. A big, brilliant green-hued gauntlet of a challenge that demanded a new way of thinking that came with a new set of very specific problems to resolve. No paper label, no palette of famous brand colours, none of the familiar packaging traits and yet it still had to be desirable and ‘stand out’. And that’s the modern day challenge – In this huge competitive arena of brand choice, how do you win the hearts and minds of your consumers with such a limited armoury of brand assets?

We know it’s not a quick fix – but it’s ultimately about changing habits, encouraging shifts in consumers’ buying behaviours, learning to shop and consume in the way your folks did in the 70’s.

Who knew that the decade famous for getting it so wrong was actually the decade that on many levels got it just about right.

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