This week, during my work for the NBR, I chatted with the CEO of a large organic fruit export company about the benefits and possibilites of packing fruit at source, the use of PLA, and how to add value to Kiwi produce to enable it to play in the premium product space. These are very real concerns for New Zealand producers.

I will meet with Russell at their company premises on Wednesday to discuss this further. So perhaps something real and tangible can emerge from all of this, and the second use can be filling my bank account…



At the moment I am continuing the idea of the second use of the packaging (or assembled multiples of a portion thereof) as a vehicle for the articulation of ideas to do with sustainability.

So instead of puzzles, perhaps something sculptural that the user assembles from the pieces. I’m looking at Andy Goldsworthy, Virginia King, David Mach and others for some ideas.

Thus the second life, or second function, is not to hold widgets, or a gimmick designed to delay the inevitable slide towards the trash heap. but to inform, educate, and stimulate discussion around issues of sustainability.

Other ideas


Some other packaging ideas:

  • Self-stacking CD cases. Cases either fit together, lego style, with sliding trays, or slot into each other to form their own shelf
  • Food/other packaging shells that fit into each other lego style, that when filled with cement, concrete. adobe etc. can form rudimentary bricks. Perfect for third world countries where building supplies are hard to come by.

Initial ideas


My thinking started off with “food” being my second life for the PLA packaging post initial use. Use the PLA, then turn it into compost to grow food. But food doesn’t seem to be the aim of this project. Odd really.

So – other potential second lives/parts of PLA packaging:

  • Clip out knives and forks for fastfood containers. Item is part of lid structure, with perforated edge. Snap out of lid to use, and can then compost rest of container
  • PLA container to collect groceries in at supermarket and take home, similar to existing carry baskets. Turns into “organics” part of modular recycling system at home, dispose of whole unit (to be composted) when throw out the trash. This system would keep organic waste together and be user friendly. No mess, no worms, no drippy stuff. (That’s three good uses: carries food, stores food waste, and then turns into food!)
  • Pieces of the container body/lid that snap out and that form a greater whole. My thinking here is to make a single “snap out piece” per container lid, so that after the consumer has collected a number of lids they are able to construct something from those pieces.
  •  I like the idea of multiples, because this should make the consumer aware of the very act of consumption and subsequent disposal of the container and the implications of this action. So, for example, what about a puzzle piece or two in each lid, that when collected, form a puzzle that shows a map of the world. That links the act of consumption to the end result, the planet.
  •  Or perhaps the pieces fit together to make a childs toy. That is, by using a compostable plastic you are ensuring the future of the child that is playing with the toy.
  • Or perhaps a light. “Have you seen the light yet?” Its in bioplastics.
  • Or perhaps the puzzle pieces spell out a message when they fit together (like “hey lard-arse, how many happy meals did you have to eat to collect all these pieces…”). I’m not sure. This all needs some more thought. But I do know that I’d like the second life to be something that informs the consumer of the consequences of the choices they have made by using a compostable plastic.
  • If bio-plastics are going to work then I feel a responsiblity to promote their adoption by designing them for easy use and informing others of the possibilities they offer. That is largely what this project is about for me. (If you find the thought amusing, you can consider me the bioplastics messiah…)

When I first started investigating PLA as a material, someone made the comment that it was “premature” as a material as it didn’t compost easily, and there was no industrial composting facility in New Zealand to deal with it.

That really annnoyed me. That sort of thinking – that the world of possibility is limited to what we have now – I find incredibly short sighted. To say the very least. And by following that sort of thinking we are bound to make no progress at all.

So I did a little more research. Firstly, I did a lot more research on PLA: Life Cycle Analyses of PLA versus other materials, a review of some of the large companies beginning to use it (DuPont, WalMart, Mark’s and Spencer, Tesco’s, BASF, Hycail amongst others) and a review of its positives and negatives. (There’s a folder on my desk.)

Its not perfect. But the history of patent applications for bio-plastics shows that this is a hot field. And the products are getting better all the time. PLA isn’t the be-all and end-all, its just a big step in the right direction. It does need to kept separate from PET, otherwise it causes big problems with recycling PET. And its made from corn, which could also be made into biofuel. (Currently 0.5% of the low grade U.S corn crop goes to PLA production.) But it can also be made from sugar beet, potatoes, wood pulp and various other starch producing sources. Which brings me to New Zealand, where Scion Research is making bio-plastics, like PLA, from wood pulp. It seems quite ideal for a geographically remote country like New Zealand to be able to produce its own biodegradable plastic, use it to package food, and then turn that same plastic into compost with which to fertilise the fields on which we can grow food for the nation.

Alternately, of course, we could continue to import plastic granules from the other side of the world, dig up vast tracts of the two small islands for landfill, and just stick it all into the ground, mixed in with a few organics to make a nice smelly mess that is useless!

Yup, if you ask me, it seems to make a hellava lot of sense. Produced locally, used locally, and turned into food locally. Just like a natural cycle. No waste. But hey – I could be misguided.

Which brings me back to the “industrial composting” aspect. As it turns out, after a bit of digging, there IS in fact an industrial composting facility in New Zealand, and furthermore, it has successfully composted PLA cutlery and packaging.

I was very pleased to get a positive email from Dr Peter Robinson, one of the Directors of HotRot, a locally based company that is exporting its composting technology to the rest of the world. Just a pity no-one here knows about it yet. (At the DINZ Sustainability Conference it was reported that the PLA bottles given out in the goody bags were interesting but useless because there was no industrial composting facility to deal with them…)

Funny what a little research can do.

Sometime this weekend I’ll pin up a bunch of visual research and intro blurbs from a variety of packaging design books in my studio space.

Yes, books. “Hey wots tht u ask?” Don’t deify Google I say!!!

These are meant as inspiration and provocation for anyone wandering the studio courting the “aha” moment.

I really think it helps to have perspective generators (other than your own thoughts in a wildy scrawled mindmap) up in the studio. Hopefully this action will be reciprocated by the rest of the neophyte packaging designers!