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Detroit rethinks the true value of plastic packaging

OpenIDEO Detroit interviews a local shop manager to gain insights into the value of plastic packaging in his store.

Photo of Naman Mandhan
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To kick-off the Circular Design Challenge, the OpenIDEO Detroit Chapter went out into the city to conduct interviews and gather observations from the local community related to their use of small-format plastic packaging.

A small team of OpenIDEO Detroit-ers visited a local store that sells sports merchandise, to better understand the use of small-format plastic packaging. Among other uses, we noticed that small plastic liners were being used to protect the surface of small plastic baseball hat collectibles from being scratched. As one of our members put it, "Plastic is being used to protect plastic".


While discussing what happens to the liners when a customer is purchasing one of these hats, we had the opportunity to interview the shop manager to gather his insights.

What happens to these thin plastic liners when a customer picks up one of these helmets?

Often, when a customer picks up one hat, the plastic liner is left behind in the basket. At the end of the day, all of these plastic liners are collected and end up being trashed. If a customer buys multiple hats, they end up taking the liners with them. 

Incidentally, our interviewee had spent a large part of his life working in the packaging industry, and offered his opinion on how if it were up to him, these hats would be packaged differently.

There's a better way to package this. If I were to do this differently, I would use foam-based packaging to serve this purpose. These plastic liners look cheap, and provide no real value to the customer. The foam-based packaging would be easier to collect and also be a more presentable alternative to this method.

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

The thin plastic liners are similar to tear-offs in that they are so small and lightweight that they are not deemed worthy of the investment to sort automatically and manually. After this interview, we were left with the question, "How might we redesign these packaging items so that they deliver more value to the customer while reducing their detrimental environmental effects?"

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

As you go about your everyday lives and observe the use of small-format plastic packaging around you, question what the true value of this packaging is, and whether you can get the same experience with alternatives to these small-format plastics.

Tell us about yourself

The interview was conducted by design students at a local University and engineers working in the automotive industry in Detroit. The diversity in our career tracks helped us understand this challenge from both a customer experience and packaging logistics standpoint.

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Photo of Balint Katona

ThanksNaman Mandhan

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