Inspired Projects – The Disappearing Package

On a daily basis, we are reminded of how much packaging we, as individuals, and we, as society at large, throw in the garbage. In 2010, the Government of Canada estimated that roughly 24.5 million tonnes of waste was disposed of by Canadian residents. Statistics from the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) show that packaging accounts for approximately 13% of total solid waste.

Although much of the packaging material consumed on a daily basis can be recycled, there is still room for improvement, both on the side of the brand owners and packaging specialists (to produce increasingly environmentally-friendly packaging) and also an elevated understanding by consumers about what can be recycled. Additionally, consumer packaging waste not only has an impact on the environment, it can also have a direct impact on taxpayers’ wallets, as it must be transported and disposed of after its short life cycle.

One family in California is taking a completely opposite approach to packaging consumption – they just don’t do it. Bea Johnson is leading her family in living a zero waste lifestyle by not purchasing consumer packaged goods (check out Bea’s blog at Now, I know that you’re probably thinking, “this family surely lives in the forest and sings ‘Kumbaya’ all day.” This couldn’t be further from the truth! The Johnson’s are a family for four who live in a beautiful, clutter-free home and they just don’t produce garbage. The family goes out of their way to not buy packaged products, instead shifting their purchases to fresh foods contained in (their own) reusable containers. The Johnson’s compost and they occasionally recycle, but for the most part they produce no garbage.

It’s clear that not everyone is interested in living like the Johnsons, nor is it realistic to expect most people to do so.  Packaging is necessary to transport a product safely to the end consumer, as well as allow for brand promotion on store shelves. But what if there was a less wasteful and more innovative solution for packaging the household products we all use? When Aaron Mickelson was a master’s student, he may have developed just the answer.

Mickelson’s master’s thesis project is an incredibly innovative and exciting prospect for the future of packaging. “The Disappearing Package” envisions popular household consumables (bar soap, tea bags, detergent, reusable containers and trash bags) in a package that disappears when the product is consumed. Below are highlights of the five concept packages.

NIVEA Bar Soap

This bar soap concept package is made of water-soluble and septic-safe paper. When the consumer wishes to use the product, they bring the entire package into the shower and the box containing the soap will dissolve away. As an added function, the box has been designed so that individuals can’t easily open the package, reinforcing the new habit of bringing the box into the shower with them.

Twinings Tea Bags

Many products are packaged in not just one layer of packaging, but multiple layers (primary, secondary and tertiary) for a variety of branding, food regulation compliance and transportation reasons. A great example of this is tea bag packaging that is typically wrapped in multiple layers (tea bag with hang tag, tea bag sleeves, tea bag box and cellophane exterior). Mickelson proposes using wax-lined “paper folders” that are attached in an accordion-folded, perforated book format. The end result allows for increased design real estate and a “storybook” quality to the product package. The paper folders also act as the hang tag attached to each tea bag.


Mickelson envisions the Tide PODS product as a tearable sheet of individual laundry soap pods, encapsulated in water soluble plastic packaging and printed using water-soluble ink. The sheet of soap pods is initially rolled up and appears as a cylindrical package when on store shelves. When the last pod is used, there’s nothing left of the package!

OXO POP Containers

Instead of printing a separate paper insert placed inside reusable OXO containers to provide product information, Mickelson proposes screen printing the product information directly onto the container with soap-soluble ink. He recognizes that consumers wash reusable containers prior to use anyway, so the soap-soluble printed “label” would be washed away prior to first use.

Glad Trash Bags

Mickelson believes that trash bags should not need their own bag or box container.  He has devised a more strategic way to contain the product and provide in-store brand identification. His solution is to enable the trash bags to be dispensed from the centre of the roll and by the end of the product’s useful life, the single bag that remains is the bag printed with the brand’s logo and product information.

Many would agree that Mickelson is really onto something here! His work has been featured in national magazines, major online news outlets and maybe we’ll see his work featured on store shelves in the near future! Find out more about The Disappearing Package project at


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.