No More Bubble Wrap: A Clever Reusable Packing System Eliminates Waste

Imagine Amazon shipping in packaging that didn’t have to be tossed away.

Packing fragile items is usually all about excess–piles of packing peanuts or air-filled plastic packs, bubble wrap, and weird expandable foam cushions. Depending on local recycling rules, it might all end up in the trash when someone opens the box. A new design from Royal College of Art graduate student Mireia Gordi i Vila attempts to reinvent the usual world of shipping with a minimal and fully reusable system.


A special elastic fabric, mixed with silicone for extra cushion, is stretched in a simple frame that closes like a thin suitcase around whatever it is that’s being shipped. No matter the shape or weight of the object, the fabric traps it securely inside, forming an instant custom package. The whole thing slides inside a larger box for shipping.

The solution costs more than the usual plastic and foam, but it’s meant to be durable and simple to reuse indefinitely. “Traditionally, packing materials tend to be as cheap as possible, precisely because they will be discarded after use,” Gordi says.

If someone happens to be home when the package arrives, they could take out their order and hand the box back to the courier, or they could drop it off later at a collection point. Back at a warehouse, shippers could keep a stock of a few standard sizes.

Gordi experimented with designs for a few different scenarios, including packing priceless art for a museum. “I was looking for a place with oddly shaped objects, all different, highly valuable,” she says. “Eventually, though, I see it as a concept applicable to many other contexts–like generalist sellers such as Amazon or Ebay.”

After doing more work to figure out the right applications for the system and getting feedback from packers and shippers, Gordi may work with a partner to pursue producing the system.

“For many industries if would be a paradigm shift, and it requires a re-organization of their logistics and their expenditure,” she says. “But I think it could replace certain packing materials and certain packing methods.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.