Danilo Makio’s milk carton is half-recycled before you even open it. His design takes a familiar idea (for a lot of the world, if not America)–a bag of milk in a rigid jug–but opts to make the whole thing recyclable.
The Re-Pack carton comes in two parts. An outer “jug” made from cardboard, plus an inner bio-plastic bag which contains the milk. Unlike regular Tetrabrik-style cartons, which need to have their parts separated before recycling, and then the actual carton processed with lots of water to reclaim its materials, Makio’s design is pre-separated. You just toss each part into the appropriate recycling receptacle when you’re done.
The bag-in-a-jug design is familiar in many parts of the world. A good chunk of Canada has used them for many decades now. There, you buy multipacks which contain several bags, then drop them into a jug and pierce the bag to use it. The idea is sound, but there are drawbacks. One is handling the bags themselves, which are as hard to grapple and to stack as you might expect. Another is that the bag can fall out of the jug, or you can just make a bad cut when you open it and have to put up with a dribbling bag until it’s empty.
The design, by Makio along with Maira Kondo, Lau Bellesa, Akira Mizutani, and Mariana Mascarenhas of the University of Sao Paulo, solves both problems by locking the bag into the carton by way of a folding closure. The plastic inner also comes with its own screw-top nozzle, which beats the Canadian bag in another way–it’s resealable. And because that bag and the nozzle are made of the same plastic (a corn-derived bioplastic), recycling is still easy.
Makio says that bags haven’t caught on in most of the world because “It’s easier to stock and use a cardboard package.” To make the bag concept more appealing, he decided to include the reusable jug in the package. “We wanted to design a solution in which the replacement of packages would be easy and practical to execute, with a more convenient usage,” he says.
Urban living also means better infrastructure for daily shopping. “Nowadays more people are living alone or with smaller families and living in smaller apartments,” says Makio. “Thus they are stocking fewer products in their homes and going more often to the market.”
It’s a lot easier to throw a 24-ounce bag into your daily shopping than it is to manhandle Canada’s monstrous one gallon multipacks into your cart.
Designing for recycling is great, but does Brazil have the resources to do the recycling?
“Recycling in Brazil is growing up, but it’s still not satisfactory,” Makio says. The country dumps around $2.5 billion of waste that could be reused into landfills. “In 2012 only 29% of this packaging was recycled in Brazil,” he tell us, “but it’s a number that is growing during the years–in 2004, only 16% was recycled.”
A slow improvement, to be sure, but with better recycling infrastructure and smart packaging design like the Re-Pack, things look good.