Years ago, I read a book called “The Spike“. It describes future technologies and theorises on what the modern world might be like in the future based on then-current (in the 90s) technology. One concept that really stuck with me was nanotechnology and what the book describes as “the goop pool”.
In a nutshell, the goop pool is a pool of loose carbon atoms which can clone anything you throw into it: You throw in a chair, nanobots deconstruct it atom by atom while recording the process, then rebuild the exact chair from the carbon atoms in the pool. Since everything is made of carbon[1. I can’t remember 100% if it was actually carbon, so replace ‘carbon’ with whatever is the correct ‘thing’…], anything can be made from the goop pool. Zero waste.
This was a pretty striking concept; building things with zero waste. Instead of growing trees, cutting them down, sawing wood into beams, and sculpting/sanding/cutting/shaping into chairs, we just ‘build’ the chairs from scratch. No offcuts, no wood chips, no sawdust, no waste.
Two pieces I read online this week have brought this to my mind; Nike’s Flyknit, and a design thesis from Pratt Institute student Aaron Mickelson.
Last year Nike introduced a technology called Flyknit. Specially engineered threads are woven into a shoe upper, giving extreme lightness, fit, and sustainability in production. In fact, they claim a ⅔ reduction in manufacturing waste, because the uppers are not cut from a large piece of leather of fabric, so there are no leftovers.
I can’t find any information on it, but I’d be even more impressed if the thread/s they used were based on their recycled polyester (plastic bottles) material.
The disappearing package
Along similar zero-waste lines, is this thesis by design student Aaron Mickelson, where he tries to answer the question: can we eliminate packaging?
Every year, we throw away a ton of packaging waste (actually, over 70 million tons). It makes up the single largest percentage of trash in our landfills (beating out industrial waste, electronics, food… everything). Figures released by the EPA indicate this problem is getting worse every year.
As a package designer (and grad student—meaning I know everything and can solve every problem, naturally), I was concerned about where this trend is going. Of course, many talented designers working in the field have made great efforts over the past few years to reduce the amount of packaging that goes onto a product. However, for my Masters Thesis, I asked the question: Can we eliminate that waste entirely?
The five solutions presented by this website are my answer to that question. I realize each presents its own manufacturing or distribution challenge; however, each also presents opportunities available to package designers right now.
A way to reduce waste without having to invent new technology. Basically, it’s smart thinking. This is the kind of design I’m really fond of because it’s not rocket surgery — just breaking from decades of history and designing with the (long term) future in mind.
I believe this is the beginning of an evolution in product design and packaging, and from a consumer point of view, the next big trend-turned-way-of-life after recycling, buying used/pre-loved, and conscious use/non-use of materials.