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Ecologic, a sensible package

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An Environmentally Friendly Alternative

Our recent coverage of GreenBottle prompted a response from Ecologic Brands, a US based renewable / recyclable alternative package manufacturer with much wider deployment in the US and Canada. They have supplied us with samples for our evaluation.

A Different Approach

Unlike GreenBottle, the samples we received from Ecologic Brands do not use a biodegradable liner, but instead a recyclable #4 LDPE inner pouch. The beauty of this approach lies in the recyclable / compostable clam-shell outer structure being easily separable from the recyclable inner liner. As a bonus, the outer shell is made of recycled cardboard, and newspaper and is not bleached. In contrast to GreenBottle’s strict renewability approach, this is a hybrid approach of both renewability and recyclability.

Additionally, since this design is film-agnostic, the liner can also be made from biodegradable materials along with the cap, giving the design the ability to cater to both needs. This is indeed more flexibility than we can see in competing designs.

While it is a matter of opinion whether one favors one approach over the other, we like the ease of recyclability in Ecologic Brands’ approach along with a higher consumer involvement in the separation of renewable and recyclable parts of the package.

Sensory Appeal: What’s There Not to Like?

There is plenty of sensory appeal with this package given its egg-crate like texture. In the food business, this associates well with wholesomeness. It does also associate well with recyclability and renewability. Judging from the design of the package submitted to us, this iteration of the package design is targeting laundry detergent, and we believe this association is in uncharted territory. While recyclability and renewability association would seemingly work regardless, we would venture to guess that detergent association could be acting in reverse. We have seen that while wholesomeness associates well with products such as milk and eggs, gloss and bright colors move other products such as orange juice.

Design Elements: The Cap

The package has a sensible cap, designed to be smaller than similar detergent caps, presumably for a more concentrated detergent. The cap is also more readily recyclable given that it has no print, coloring, or sleeve, a sound approach.

Design Elements: The Handle

When we first saw the package, our first reaction to the handle was a negative one. We prefer through handles, and we thought this particular design would be less than optimal.

Once we tried the package, however, we realized that given the smaller capacity of the package, the handle works acceptably, especially with the package’s outstanding rigidity given its egg-crate clam-shell.

We liked how the package felt in-hand, and the grip was secure. Given a choice, however, we’d still prefer a through handle.

Regardless, in recognition of the fact that there is a separate pouch in there, and putting a through handle would take away usable volume and reduce distribution efficiency, we feel that this is an acceptable compromise. However, this could be a serious limitation for scaling up this package to gallon sizes or more. We recommend Ecologic Brands to investigate alternate handle designs especially if there are larger sizes in development.

Design Elements: The Bottom

Consumers hardly ever look at the bottom of a package. In fact, for FMCG packages, the package itself tends to be all but invisible, unless there is a negative experience. This may indeed be one of those cases.

The package, given its clam-shell design, has a living-hinge as seen at the lower left of the picture above. When the clam-shell is closed, the bottom ends up with overlapping sides, with a protrusion in the middle. To make matters worse, the two sides also have a draft angle to help pull the clam-shell out of the mold, as shown below.

These two design choices make the package wobbly on flat surfaces even when full. Ecologic Brands has informed us that the package samples we received were Phase 1 samples, and that this issue has been addressed in the Phase 2 design. We have not seen the revised version of the package.

Design Elements: Visual Cues

In order to recycle the shell, one needs to separate the liner from the shell. Ecologic Brands embossed instructions on the edge of the shell to inform the user of this need.

However, apart from the embossed instructions, no other visual cues or design elements such as tabs can be seen to help separate the sides. While there are instructions on the label, we consider them more of a last-resort than a proper substitute for good package usability. Given that people tend to recycle only when it is easy, the affordance of separation needs to be improved.

Ecologic Brands’ choice to empower the consumer to perform the separation is a great idea. The physical act of separating the shell from the pouch would provide a do-good feedback to consumers, triggered with visual cues such as the pouch or the embossing. Since the cap base is attached to the LDPE pouch, recycling them together along with the cap also makes sense.

Conclusion

We love this package and the innovation it brings. While there are some areas that need to be refined, we feel that overall this is a great step in the right direction. The wide market presence of this package here in the US and Canada gives us hope that a tipping point for environmentally friendly packages may not be too far into the future.

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Ecologic, a sensible package, 5.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings