Every day, 50 million Americans eat fast food. And while that has obvious ramifications for our ever-expanding waistlines, it also creates quite a bit of trash in the process. Many recent innovations aimed at greening food packaging have focused on materials, but those come with their own challenges–for example, a compostable fork or wrapper might easily end up in a landfill if a city doesn’t offer composting or a consumer doesn’t read the label. What if designers dramatically reduced the amount of packaging instead?
During a graduate packaging design class at Rhode Island School of Design, Seulbi Kim started thinking about a better way to wrap up the typical American lunch. Her first focus was convenience, not the environment. As she visited a series of fast food joints, she watched customers struggle to carry their meals out the door. Oversized bags helped a little, but couldn’t hold a drink without spilling it. They also created a lot of waste.
“I realized that the system isn’t just inconvenient, but it also wastes materials,” Kim says. “You get a paper bag for a burger and fries, and then when you have trouble balancing everything, you ask for a bag with handles and get a giant plastic bag. You still have to hold a drink in a separate hand. I realized there had to be a better way.”
After spending time at a local die cutting plant in order to understand what was technically possible, Kim came up with Togo burger, a simple new version of the fast food package. A recycled cardboard sleeve wraps around a drink and straw and locks together to create handles. Inside, there’s a slot for a burger on one side, and a little hook for fries on the other (the box for the fries has a corresponding slot on the back). The whole package can be carried in one hand.
In all, Kim says it’s easier for a fast food employee to pack, easier to carry, and it reduces the volume of materials used by about 50%. It also minimizes the use of glue or printing, and the cardboard sleeves can be stacked to save space in storage and transportation. While the design needs some refinement–Kim says, for example, that she’s considering adding an eco-friendly coating to the cardboard to protect it from condensation on the top of a soda–it’s an interesting solution, and even more impressive in that it took just two weeks to create.
Now, we just need to redesign the food inside.