Reading Time: 5 min | Jun 2021

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Green Packaging for the Planet

Caring for the environment to combat the climate crisis is one of the most pressing causes of today – and top of mind for many talented designers pushing for more sustainable solutions in packaging design in this year's iF DESIGN AWARD

Plastic revolutionized modern society and yet take-away cups and packaging made of plastic are a standard of everyday life. However, as landfills and collections of plastic afloat in the oceans are increasing and causing even further damage, caring for the environment to combat the climate crisis has become one of the most pressing causes of today and tomorrow. Innovations are needed to tackle the crisis of plastic waste and pollution. They should take a direction that presents plastic as a material designed to be safely reused, recycled or composted. For many talented designers it is already the aim to pushing for more sustainable solutions in packaging design. The mantra is: Go green.

This year’s iF DESIGN AWARD winners in the category of Packaging Design show what’s possible when principles of recycling and sustainable methods of packaging are embraced. The most successful designs and concepts consider what happens to the packaging once it has been removed, as the gold award-winning examples of the "REfill REuse REpeat cream jar" illustrates. The idea here is to keep the “mother” jar and only buy refills instead of purchasing a completely new jar.


SOILABLE Paper Coffee Stirrer-Straw | Manufacturer: Jetwell GreenTech Limited, Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR China
These paper stirrer-straws are the first stirrers made of paper that can be used to both stir and sip warm coffee and tea. They are compostable and can be recycled to produce other paper products. This a far superior alternative to wooden stirrers that can't be used to drink and are not recyclable. SOILABLE paper stirrer-straws help us all to reduce plastic waste.
Pu Dao | Manufacturer: Pu Dao Liang Pin Crop Marketing, Beijing, China
The outer packaging is made of environmental cardboard, expressing tradition and simplicity. The rice bags are made of natural linen and can be reused or recycled. The brown ribbon around the box is both elegant and practical as a convenient handle for carrying.
SOC Lunch-box | Manufacturer: Hefei Midea Refrigerator Co., Ltd., | Hefei City, China
Unlike traditional lunchboxes, this container has an additional feature: a placemat. When eating, we can place the lunchbox and cutlery on the placemat to prevent food and soup from dropping onto the desk. The placemat is made of three layers: an easy-to-clean polyurethane layer, a thermal insulation layer, and a food-grade, easy-to-clean layer of silica gel.
Petal Foaming Hand Soap Bottle | Manufacturer: Trivium Packaging USA, Youngstown, United States
Petal is a zero-waste hand soap system. Refillable pods are shipped directly to customers, which are mixed with water and dispensed in a stylish, reusable aluminum bottle. Available in 3 sleek designs, the reusable bottles are made from 100% recyclable, lightweight aluminum. The foaming pump is made from post-consumer recycled plastics. Each bottle holds 8.5 ounces of soap made of natural ingredients.
Rainforest Artesian Water | Manufacturer: Trivium Packaging USA, Youngstown, United States
This bottle was designed to help eliminate single-use plastics that dominate the bottled water market. The first water bottle in aluminum packaging uses 25% recycled aluminum and can be re-closed, refilled and 100% recycled with no plastic components. Its intricate and eye-catching labeling pays homage to the source of the bottled water, namely the rainforest.
Bubble Tree Refillable Bubble System | Manufacturer: Trivium Packaging USA, Youngstown, United States
This eco-friendly and sustainable bubble solution uses aluminum bottles that can be repeatedly refilled over time. The kit includes a durable 100% recyclable bottle with an ergonomic grip and cap with an attached bubble wand to keep hands clean. The easy-to-use refill system allows children to fill their bottles on their own and write their names on them.
Paper tube | Manufacturer: Kolmar Korea Co., Ltd., Seoul, Republic of Korea
This paper tube offers an eco-friendly advance in tube packaging. The entire body is made of paper, eliminating the use of typical tube materials such as plastics. A range of papers creates various textures. The sleeves can be personalized with the graphics and logos of a given brand.
Music wINNOry [Winery] | Manufacturer: INNOCEAN Worldwide, Seoul, Republic of Korea
This packaging design for presenting wine as a gift offers gives users a novel way to re-use this environmental solution. Opening the bag reveals a protective paper sleeve around the wine bottle. Instructions guide the user in how to fold the sleeve and transform it into a speaker that cradles a cell phone. Scanning the printed QR code launches a playlist that perfectly pairs with wine, smoothly amplified through the speaker that seconds ago was a part of a gift bag.
Simon Packaging | Manufacturer: SIMON S. A. U., Barcelona, Spain
For the first time in the company's history, this packaging system avoids the use of monocolor printing and uses its blue corporate color in a strategic way that integrates with the packaging's kraft box material.
Zipper type package for large electric appliances | Manufacturer: Gree Electric Appliances Inc., Zhuhai, China
This is a zipper type package box design, which is designed to provide an unpacking solution for large electrical appliances. Zippers are used in an innovative way to divide large boxes, reducing the space needed and making it possible to unbox the appliance alone.
GUAVA ECO-FRIENDLY CLAMSHELL | Manufacturer: Premium Guava, Aguascalientes, Mexico
These eco-friendly trays are 100 % recyclable and compostable, made with bamboo and sugar cane residuals to reduce plastic consumption by 91%. The tray is fitted with perforations to allow ventilation for the guava and can be restacked.
Innisfree's Green Tea Seed Serum Paper Bottle | Manufacturer: Innisfree, Seoul, South Korea
This packaging features a paper bottle containing Green Tea Seed Serum, the main product of natural cosmetics brand innisfree. Compared to the original container for 160ml of product, the paper bottle edition uses 51.8% less plastic. The cap and shoulder are made of 10% recycled plastic. After product use, both the paper bottle and lightweight plastic container can be recycled.
OLIVIO & CO Sunglasses Eco-Packaging | Manufacturer: Olivio (Hong Kong) Limited, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR China
Each pair of sunglasses comes in a 100% biodegradable, molded sugarcane bagasse pulp clamshell container. The rounded form is sturdy and lightweight, offering protection for e-commerce shipping. It is stackable as well as easily customizable in different colors, providing an attractive and distinctive display for the retail environment.
Grace of Waste – the upcycled Furoshiki | Manufacturer: Peter Schmidt Group, Hamburg, Germany
This Furoshiki, a wrapping cloth traditionally used in Japan, is made from ocean plastic. This material choice not only avoids new waste but also recycles existing waste. And because the cloth is always passed on, it spreads a meaningful idea – gift by gift. A closer look at the pattern on the cloth illustrates the location of the floating islands of garbage in the oceans.
Solar Déco Light | Manufacturer: TEST RITE TRADING, Shenzhen, China
The packaging designer makes clever use of the product walls to create a series of dynamic sparkling images. The environmental design comprises a minimal amount of kraft paper with soybean ink printing. Hemp ropes on both sides mean the light is very transportable. The hollow top cover allows the solar panel to function without unpacking the product.
Nubra Underwear Packaging | Manufacturer: Guangzhou Kumu Design Co., Ltd., Guangzhou, China
This packaging is lightweight and environmentally friendly, made with bronzing and laser engraving technology, and requiring very little ink. The packaging structure is unique: the inner box is one piece of folded cardboard, which displays well and offers a premium unboxing experience. All packaging materials are recyclable, usable, and degradable.
Eco Collector | Manufacturer: Ningbo Jiajiajianjian Biotechnolgy, Ningbo, China
This sustainable package design eliminates the use of disposable plastic droppers and cups common in pregnancy tests. The package of this testing paper can be folded to take the sample and drop it into the testing paper. The package of the analyzer also acts as a testing paper container. The entire package is made by recyclable and degradable materials, which cause no harm to the environment.
LIFEWTR Series 9: Art of Recycling | Manufacturer: PepsiCo, New York, United States
This packaging is leading the way in advancing a future circular economy for plastic. The company's plan is to provide water to be 100% recyclable and bottles made with 100% rPET by the end of 2020.
HANYUL Sustainable Campaign | Manufacturer: Amorepacific, Seoul, South Korea
This skincare packaging is in an eco-friendly design that includes bio PET containers with 26.5% plant-derived materials. The containers are not coated or colored but instead use an easy-to-remove label to achieve greater recyclability. By using eco-friendly materials and processes that have a minimal impact on the environment throughout the entire product cycle.

What lots of these iF awarded entries share, though, is the goal of making sure that the plastic we produce is kept in use for as long as possible and then regenerated at the end of their service life. Hence, design is understood as an essential element in the shift to a circular economy in which plastic should never become waste or pollution in the first place.

From lush flora and fauna to sparkling springs and life-filled oceans – in order to making a difference to save our beautiful planet, we should break the pattern of our convenience consumer-related lifestyle. Clean-ups are not enough to end the plastic crisis. Way too many single-use products or plastics end up in our waters and soils as microplastics, contributing to the current damaging situation of our nature. Yet there are still predominantly packaging materials circulating that are too hard or expensive to recycle.

The good news? Many designers are exploring alternatives to fossil-based plastics. Product designers in particular are at the forefront of making packaging more eco-friendly. They identify more and more areas in which products and services can be made more regenerative, ranging from – to name just a few – cosmetic tubes ("Paper tube") and fruit packaging ("GUAVA ECO-FRIENDLY CLAMSHELL") to pregnancy test package ("Eco Collector").


nongfu wangtian chili sauce | Manufacturer: SHENZHEN BOB DESIGN, Guangdong, China
The tube of this chili sauce packaging is made of compostable cornstarch. Comsumers have the impression of picking chilis when picking up a tube of this product, which also nicely circles back to the producer's use of natural farming practices in production as well as no additives in the chili paste.
BIZEUN PURE GIFT SET | Manufacturer: SPC SAMLIP, Seoul, South Korea
This gift set reinterprets the Korean tradition of white rice cake on New Year's Day with a contemporary flair. The elegant gift wrapping with ribbon and seal sends a festive message while the minimalist style of the boxes appeals to modern tastes. The recyclable material used as a wrapped fabric also adds a modern touch to the packaging.
REfill REuse REpeat cream jar | Manufacturer: Fasten BV, Hoorn, Netherlands
This cosmetic packaging uses only one material - recycled polypropylene - for all parts of the product. Additionally, there is a 70% reduction on materials compared to a standard creme jar. By reducing weight in the design and making the refill units stackable, it is possible to significantly reduce Co2 in transport. By replacing ink with debossing and folding the cardboard instead of gluing it, the jar becomes even more sustainable.
00:00 | Manufacturer: inDare Design Strategy Limited, Shenzhen, China
This ice cream packaging communicates issues of climate change, deforestation and the viral pandemic. The three product shapes refer to three environmental catastrophes: melting glaciers, forest fires, and virus epidemics. Text and date on the ice cream sticks provide current information about the state of the environment, reminding users of the importance of protecting the planet.

Designing sustainable packaging isn’t just about using eco-friendly materials, it’s also about creative aesthetics that get people thinking and talking about environmental issue. The gold award-winning design "00:00" is an inventive packaging design that offers delicious ice cream – and draws attention to melting glaciers at the same time. Other green designs feature sustainable materials such as "PuDao", packaging boxes using cardboard and linen, and "SOILABLE"'s wooden stirrers. Reusable and refillable packaging play an equally essential role in reducing waste: The recyclable "Bubble Tree Refillable Bubble System" features a future-oriented yet playful and practical design, as does the wine gift bag "Music wINNOry [Winery]".

What all green packagings have in common is the designers’ desire to make the world a better place. Designing for responsible consumption has reached a new level of commitment and will hopefully inspire even more collaborations between industry, government, start-up companies and designers.


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