Designing for Re-use, The Life of Consumer Packaging (Book Review)

Book: Designing for re-use

A coffee cup as a plant pot, coke cans for Halloween cape, a detergent bottle as worm harvester or washing tablet net bags for toy storage; these are all things people have done with the packaging they found in their daily lives. Reuse is often better than recycling, so when the consumer gives a packaging a second life before eventually recycling it wherever possible, he saves resources. The object he or she reused has gained the value of the item he or she would have had to buy otherwise. Packaging has become a visible problem to all of us, and although governments tent to push towards packaging reduction and recycling, re-using consumer packaging should not be underestimated in order to protect the environment. In the book "Designing for Re-Use, The Life of Consumer Packaging", Tom Fisher and Janet Shipton analyse the "open-loop re-use", where more than one re-use of the packaging is possible, and not necessarily intended by the designer.

The authors talk about "diversions to the normal flow of packaging". They show a great number of examples where packaging stays in people's houses, and serves a new purpose. The book analyses how it is possible that people become creative with packaging and find a value in it that allows them to re-use it in their homes and gardens. Concentrating specifically on packaging that is made to be used just ones (in other words: made to be wasted), the book shows that the consumer still finds ways to re-use it.

Nowadays it is difficult to get the consumer to participate in a close-loop re-use system, like back in the days when the milk bottle had 'rinse and return' written on it. Therefore, according to the book, packaging should be designed for open-loop re-use, where more than one re-use is possible. To do so, designers need to work together with anthropologists, material exert and other multi-disciplinary professionals, as well as the consumer. The packaging industry needs to take advantage of the spontaneous action of the consumer. The book demonstrates that re-use of packaging mostly happens in places where the designer or the government had not thought of it, and hence, shows that "by understanding the ways in which actions of this sort fit with everyday life, opportunities may be identified to enhance the potential for re-use through packaging design".

The authors itemize the factors that affect the re-use of packaging, and analyzes the home as a system in which objects are processed. Some of these factors relate to the specifics of the design, including the type of materials used and the symbolism of the branding. Other factors are more obviously social--for instance the effects on re-use of different consumer orientations. Re-use offers a platform from which to develop new insight into the ways that design interventions may facilitate more sustainable consumer practices. It provides practical guidance from a design perspective, in the context of real-life examples, to provide professionals with vital design recommendations, and evaluate how a practice orientated approach to understanding consumers'' behavior might be significant for moving in a sustainable direction through design.

Book Contents:

1. History, Habits and Principles: Objects, People and Places
2. Material Factors
3. Ideas and Values
4. Spaces Habits and Routines
5. Reuse Practices and Design
6. Conclusion

The book certainly shows an interesting approach and a different way of thinking about packaging and the use of our resources. It goes deep into consumer behavior and might actually inspire designers as well as consumers to design, and maybe even shop, for re-use. Design for Re-Use, The life of Consumer Packaging is published by Earthscan, December 2009, ISBN:978-1-84407-488-4 ::Earthscan
More books by Earthscan:
Design Activism by Alastair Fuad-Luke
Prosperity Without Growth - Economics for a Finite Planet
The New Economics - A Bigger Picture
Sustainable Fashion & Textiles - Design Journeys
The Climate Diet: How You Can Cut Carbon, Cut Costs, And Save the Planet
The Sustainability Mirage
Designers, Visionaries + Other Stories

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