Japanese packaging design is famous for being elaborate and rich with splendour. Yes, yes, we all appreciate that. But beloved reader, before you’re about to lose it again over the thought of wasting material, exhale! In Japan, we do indeed care about sustainable packaging! Going eco has become the recent buzz word and companies are using this oh-so-trendy eco-friendliness as a competitive advantage. On the flip-side, PingMag brings you examples that are inspired by ease-of-use, nostalgia and playfulness, rather than by explicit eco-consciousness. In particular, those that have the unique combination of Japanese design with eco-friendly packaging. And we will show you why. PingMag writes down a totally wholehearted journal of some thoughts.
Written by Bianca Beuttel
7:28 a.m. I wake up to the sound of… RECYCLING!
“Chink-chink” and “clang!” – outside the neighbours are tossing glass bottles into the boxes put there early this morning. I jump up: It’s recyclables collection day! If I miss this opportunity, I‘ll have to wait a fortnight with the garbage piling up in the kitchen.
8:35 a.m. Services that facilitate REUSE.
While drinking water after running, I remember my today’s task of pondering on packaging and environmental issues. One example is staring right at me: The 2-litre PET bottle of “Health Support Water” is refillable for free. This filtered water is promoted as a more delicious and healthy option for tea and food preparation. Admittedly, the design is not as fancy as our previously introduced PET bottles, but beauty lies in the system’s simplicity: Once you have purchased the bottle — around ¥500 Yen — you can refill it again and again for free.
10:07 a.m. Renewable and biodegradable materials.
To get started, I browse my material: Last December, I saw the packaging section at the Eco Products Fair 2007 biopolymers – plastics made from plants not from fossil fuel – were widely promoted. (By the way, remember our feature on all sorts of those techy materials.) Terramac, for example, covers a huge range from film to resin. It is currently made from corn, but they state that research is also pursued on using agricultural residues like wheat or rice straw.
Since it has become apparent that plants grown for agro-diesel compete for acreage with the food crop, it is important to avoid the same mistake when looking for alternative packaging. A technique once promoted as an eco-friendly solution turns out to be even worse… Gee! How can we make a sustainable choice?
12:32 p.m. Turn plastic to paper!
Time for a quick snack! With just a mundane Cup Noodles? By no means! After 37 years of sale, Nissin’s Cup Noodles are now in paper cups! After the refill-version we reported on earlier, the regular polystyrene containers have been replaced by paper. But, not no ordinary one: It feels as soft and heat-insulating as the polystyrene, but the close-up shows that the texture is different. Good job!
1:11 p.m. The emotionalised ‘Eco Bag.’
Back to work… I skim some newsletters of ‘Japan for Sustainability,’ et voila: More Shops Stop Offering Free Plastic Bags – More People Bring Their Own Shopping Bags is a post. Cleverly, simple tote bags turn into hip ‘Eco Bags’ that are made to express your individual style and attitude — a Japanese approach to promote the eco thing.
Since the Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner of 2004, Wangari Maathai, learned the Mottainai term during a stint in Japan, so she spread the word on a global basis, making it now popular in Japan.
The pheromone tote bag made of used nobori shop banners!
However, my favourite tote bag is as unique: The artist group pheromone recycle ‘nobori’ shop banners — learn more about those here — and make all kinds of stuff, from tents to bikinis, out of them. Note that though these banners are just used for short-term advertisements, their material is pretty durable. And too good to throw away!
As another motivation strategy to encourage the use of ‘Eco Bags,’ some retailers offer bonuses: Seiyu supermarkets immediately deducts ¥2 from the total sum of the purchase; Peacock rewards you with a stamp every time you use a ‘My Bag.’ When the card is completed, your reward will be a chic pack of white garbage bags, for example. Let’s practice an eco-friendly habit then!
3:48 p.m. Go beyond visualisation.
The doorbell rings… sorry for the interruption! Someone tried to sell me a newspaper subscription. Newspaper?! Surely, reusing old newspaper as packaging is environmental friendly. But besides that, its modesty conveys a no-frills atmosphere which suits rural farming products, like these organic potatoes…
…and these soba (buckwheat) noodles.
Both radiate (although wrapped in plain newspaper) the characteristic Japanese eye for detail: The basket is intuitively folded from a double-page, the hand-written soba label, turned by 45 degrees creates an attractive contrast. But the usual sealed bags are still inside the soba package. Well, at least the newspaper created a mood of rustic unpretentiousness.
8:45 p.m. Structures from outer space.
During a party conversation, I mention my search for ways to reduce packaging and a friend remarks, “You hold one in your hand.” – “A chu-hi aluminium can?” – “Look at the structure! Its concave-convex pattern allows material reduction without loss of stability.” Oh my god, the technology originated from aerospace research conducted by NASA. Cool. “Oh, really,” somebody else comments, “I thought it is because it appeals to the tactile senses. And it’s also a non-slip grip design.” – No doubt, the principle behind it is worth being considered for further applications.
11:27 p.m. Reduce material by redirecting perception.
On the way home, thirst forces me to stop by a convenient store. A water bottle attracts my attention: At first glance, I think the neck hanger is one of these common advertising gimmicks. However the herbal tea bag is an actual part of the product and meant to change the natural water into some kind of herb water. There’s no annoyance in this ‘do-it-yourself-processing ’ . You can enjoy the gradual change of colour and witness its natural purity, since there are only two unadulterated elements. No additives contained!
As my attention was drawn to the hanger, only later I realise that there is no shrink film around the PET bottle, only the paper label around its neck. How clever!
11:58 p.m. Treasure the natural packaging.
A pleasant surprise from my sweetie awaits me at home. ”Haven’t you been looking for ideas to reduce packaging? This might be interesting,” he says and gives me a little present. Yummy!
Indeed! Eggshells, which is the natural packaging of the ingredients has been reused as a mould for the final product–pudding. Its delicate nature is perfectly conveyed by the fragile eggshells.
12.26 a.m. Not quite a conclusion.
As we already mentioned in the intro: A surprise, a change of perception, a funny detail, in this playful manner lies the power to convince people of packaging solutions that might alter the usual comfort and convenience. There is a lot to be improved upon, but the eco topic is way too serious, making it a task we will soon rebel against!
One quality of Japanese design is its ability to reconcile the contradictions – recall the concept of complex simpleness introduced here before concerning Japanese Packaging Design: Eco is just the next task to prove the ability of achieving appealing packaging with a reduced use of material. Have a good night!