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Packaging life extension

Packaging life extension

Extending the packaging utilisation period through durable packaging design achieves better environmental outcomes. The packaging can last longer and can easily be reused again by consumers or companies. This is especially useful for packaging material used by companies for internal operations, for instance for storage or internal distribution purposes. The focus on durability helps prevent replacement, which prevents unnecessary manufacturing replacement packaging and it’s the associated resource and energy use.

Packaging design choices

Lasting value Aim to create a high-quality durable packaging that offer high levels customer satisfaction through dependability. Your packaging breaks less often, and if it does should be repairable. This creates lasting value for your customer and increase brand loyalty, and will have a positive influence on word-of-mouth referencing.
Durability The main principle of packaging life extension is to make packaging that last and allow users to hold on to them as long as possible. Focusing on durability increases the longevity of your packaging and reduces the need for replacement. Focusing on durability will entail making choices around using better materials and reducing the amount of inherent weaknesses (for instance in connectors).
Limit component amount By limiting the numbers of components, the packaging is easier has less chance to break. It is also easier to recycle after it is no longer possible to use the packaging.
Limit material types Limiting the amount of materials helps to create packaging that can be easier recycled at their end-of-life stage. This will make sure that the future waste streams will be more homogeneous and therefore more valuable for recyclers.
Reduce material use Efficient material use can be achieved by considering an elemental part of the design requirements. It reduces raw material costs and makes the packaging lighter and consequently requires less energy for transportation.
Reduce energy use Reduce the amount of energy used for manufacturing by implementing improvements in the production process. If possible, use renewable energy to reduce the overall environmental impact of your packaging.
Connection selection It is preferrable to reduce the amount of needed connections between components in your packaging, but if this is not possible the aim should be to use the same materials as the each of the components that are included to make future recycling efforts easier. However, the connections can also be made from different materials if this increases overall durability, but in that case additional care should be taken to find a suitable end-of-life solution for the materials used in the connection.
Structural design With an increased emphasis on durability, the structural design of packaging requires serious consideration. Structurally strong packaging is more likely to be durable and thus less costly to maintain. Connection points and movable components will be quite challenging to make more structurally sound without losing the desired functionality of these components.
Cover and labels Covers and labels should be entirely removable or easy to dismantle, in order to assure homogenous material streams for recycling after the end-of-life. In case of using plastic for covers and labels, keep in mind that coloured plastic affects the packaging’s recyclability. Uncoloured or clear plastic is preferred because it has a better range of possibilities for recycling than coloured or black plastic.
Simplification Consider to simplify the individual components as this makes the components more durable, easier to replace and lowers production costs.
Sacrificial elements In some case it might not be possible to create long lasting components, in these cases it could relevant to consider how these components can be sacrificed and replaced.
Fault isolation Making sure that faults, damage or wear can spotted easily will help fault isolation and make it easier to repair your packaging by your customers.
Renewable materials Consider using renewable materials. However, renewable material should only be chosen when its extraction rate is equal to or lower than its replenishment rate. Further, next to its properties, materials need to be selected based on their expected end-of-life treatment to avoid unintended consequences.
Recycled materials When using recycled materials, it is important to be aware of the variance in quality. This variance can occur between different production batches, but also between materials in the same batch. The variance can exceed the tolerances that are expected from virgin materials. Another aspect is understanding the composition of the recycled material as it can contain residual contamination of unknown origin.
Non-toxic and low impact materials Aim to use non-toxic and low-impact materials. Toxic substances tend to accumulate in the biosphere and cause negative health effects for humans and other species. Design products with materials that are safe for the environment and that require less land, energy and water.
Technical characterization The regular aspects of packaging design still apply when considering material selection for durable products:
– What are the main technical properties of the material (e.g., its strength, fire resistance, etc.)?
– What are the constraints/opportunities of the material?
– What are the most convenient manufacturing processes to form the material?
– What about other manufacturing processes? How does the material behave when subjected to other processes?
Surface treatment Surface treatment will increase overall durability and resistance to damage, but will also impact the ease of recycling at the products end-of-life stage. It might be worthwhile to consider other options to increase durability.
Design for recycling Through recycling, the loop between post-use and production is closed, resulting in a circular flow of resources. Design packaging that can be recycled, even if it is meant to be reused. Apart from exploring technical feasibility it is also relevant to check if the preferred end-of-life solutions can handle the expected waste volumes you will generate in the future. Find reliable partners that can help you during your expansion process and when you reach your desired market share. The design choice regarding recyclability should not compromise the packaging’s ability to ensure safe use. Avoid oxo-degradable and biodegradable plastics since these “contaminate” the other, main polymer types (PE, PP, PET) plastic streams that are earmarked for recycling.

Supply chain impact

Distribution impact The distance between your customer and your distribution centre impacts the environmental performance of your packaging. Finding the right balance between the need for product delivery to as many places as possible and reducing the travel distance is not easy. There limited options for long-haul freight due to a lack of green long-distance transportation, but more opportunities have started to emerge for environmentally friendly last mile freight. Furthermore, options for sharing cargo shipping space can be considered or ty looking into environmentally friendly delivery companies.


Plastics recycling (if plastics are included) When using plastics in your packaging there a number of things you can do to increase the ease of recycling:
– Mono polymer design
– Prevent layering different polymers
– Avoid dark pigments and fillers
– Mark large plastic parts to facilitate sorting
– Avoid thermoset materials
– Avoid using coatings on plastic
– Avoid using composite materials
Recycling processes There a different types of material recycling that can be considered for your end-of-life. Consider the following processes for fit with the chosen material and environmental impact:
– Remould
– Mechanical
– Thermal
– Chemical
Upcycling Upcycling means recycling in which resources retain their high quality in a closed loop industrial cycle. When thinking of your end-of-life solution it is important to consider the possibility of upcycling. The idea is that your waste stream ends up creating a new packaging with new value added to it, that ideally goes beyond low value applications for recycled material.
rPET can for example be used for new bottles, food trays and food tubs.
rPE and rPP can for example become pipes, buckets or containers for non-food products.


Design methods

If you want to know more about design methodologies that can help make your design responsive to your customer’s needs, read our page about design thinking & user-centered design.


Developing a reusable product can lead to lower environmental impacts. Many of the aspects listed below will provide you with insights on what to consider to reduce your future impact. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can help you understand the environmental performance of your new product, which can support you in developing appropriate communication messaging. Here you can learn more about LCA.

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