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Aaron Mickelson

Pratt University master’s candidate Aaron Mickelson refers to himself as a “nerdy designer.” I am just going to assume that’s humblebrag for “I actually did something useful at art school,” because Mickelson’s thesis involves creating prototypes that would eliminate or greatly reduce packaging in five popular and overly packaged products. Instead of being shoved inside needless extra boxes and bags, Mickelson’s product designs use the product itself as the package.

Mickelson was troubled by how much paper and plastic and other refuse was used in the packaging of popular household goods. But as a designer, he understood that brands need packaging to differentiate themselves from other items on the shelf (duh) and be attractive to consumers. So he chose five popular brands and went to work seeing how they might be somehow packaged with little or no extra crap.

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Aaron Mickelson

For Twinings tea, he managed to eliminate the box and the plastic wrap around it. For Tide Pods, he jettisoned the big plastic bag they come in and instead stitched the pods together, making them into a perforated sheet of water-soluble material, from which individual pods can be torn off and popped directly into the washer. He also created non-packagy packaging for Nivea soap (it’s wrapped in a wrapper that dissolves in water), Glad trash bags (now just a center-pull roll of bags with the branding information printed on the outermost one), and OXO POP containers (which I’d never heard of and still can’t really tell what they are, but now their printing dissolves in the wash).

Details of his project and each product’s journey from more packaging to way less or none are at Mickelson’s website. Yes, these are just prototypes. Yes, we will pry heavy packaging out of America’s cold, dead hands. But we throw out 140 billion pounds of packaging a year. We have to do something.