Engineers love their wicked problems, and plastic waste is decidedly wicked. Packaging is the central concern - customers buy a product, remove the packaging and then all too often immediately throw it in the bin.
Most solutions involve finding ways to reduce the amount of plastic used in the packaging, but one business is taking a different tac. Instead of incrementally cutting back, it's doing away with packaging altogether.
The high street cosmetics retailer Lush is trialing an app that will allow it to sell products ‘naked’, i.e. with no packaging.
Developed in house by the company’s R&D team, the smartphone app allows customers to scan the package-free items directly from the shelf. AI image recognition then provides the necessary product information for purchase.
The app is initially on trial in the chain’s first ever ‘naked’ store in Milan. If it goes well, the business hopes to be able to roll it out worldwide.
For Lush, this could probably work. Solid handmade products can be easily recognised by the image recognition software.
Sadly, for many businesses it isn’t that simple. Packaging has a function - it's also a big industry. It provides the customer with product information, acts as a vital marketing tool, ensures protection during transport and in the case of perishable goods, keeps it fresh.
So bath bombs yes; shepherd's pie, Fabergé eggs and the latest iPhone not so much.
Of course, the fact that it may not be possible to eliminate packaging completely doesn't mean you should stop trying to cut back. The UK generated 32.2 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste in 2016 (according to the latest government figures), which is costly both to businesses and to the environment. It remains a problem worth solving.
Image credits: tviolet/shutterstock