Sketching out The Future of Plastics

On Monday morning I briefly lost access to my Google Workspace account because I forgot my password (despite having a password manager and accidentally wiping my phone last week because I blanked on my pin code). Alas, with paper and pencil as my only available tools, I sketched out an idea for our next campaign on The Future of Plastics.

This campaign will explore the tension between the innovations enabled by plastics (from light-weight electric vehicles to heart diaphragm pumps) and the significant environmental destruction caused by plastics (from the clogging of the worlds rivers and oceans to the profusion of nano-plastics). While the development of alternative materials is invaluable, the ubiquity of plastic in our ecosystems obliges us to rethink how we value, use and dispose of it. The future of plastics is circular.


Let the image do the talking

Last week I was at I Heart Studios in Amsterdam to photograph a project that has been in the works since April: a series of design prototypes for the Food industry using sustainable packaging.

From the outset I was really impressed with I Heart’s professionalism. In particular, their proposal outlined responsibilities (ours and theirs) throughout the process (clarity on a platter! 🙌🏻 ). We met in person to discuss the detailed brief I’d developed, which was followed by a half-day test shoot to determine final shot list, camera positions, lighting and background colour. Curiously, their standard practice is to insert a background colour in post, rather than shoot with a paper background, as it provides control of colour reproduction and better consistency between shots. Meanwhile, my colleague MP and I shared responsibility for sourcing all of the necessary props – from vessels to fresh food to blank label sheets and rolls to representative source material.

Over the last few years, a number of ‘envelope’ collections have been made by Avery Dennison for the Wine and Spirits segment. The materials featured are typically premium with strong aesthetic qualities. Hence, the photography focused on design, texture and print finishing.

In approaching this shoot, I wanted the images to play a pivotal role in telling the story of the sustainable materials featured – in relation to their material composition and performance capability. For example, rMC, made from FSC-certified paper and 30% post consumer waste, was propped with shredded newspaper and office copy paper. While rCrush resists rupture or significant change in appearance when wet, so was sprayed to show water droplets on its surface.

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The afterlife of packaging in the Wild, Wild West

I am currently designing a series of food labels using materials from our sustainable portfolio. The process has been a significant learning curve. I’ve gained in-depth knowledge of specific Avery Dennison products, but also a broader understanding of how to design for sustainability.

Early on I critically assessed every grocery delivery and hoarded the gems of waste packaging like a magpie. An oddity I’d never previously registered is that communicating the afterlife of packaging seems to be something of a Wild, Wild, West. Investigation proves that there are actually considerable regulations governing the information on a food label, though these mostly pertain to human safety and cover usage, storage and consumption.

Environmental health ultimately impacts human health, so it is bewildering that there are no legal standards in place. An example of best practice that does exist, on quite a few of the groceries in my kitchen actually, belongs to Recycle Now – a national campaign supported and funded by the UK Government. This system is clear, consistent and specific, indicating the packaging element (tray, bottle, lid, sleeve, film etc.), substrate (card, plastic, glass, etc.), required action (rinse, remove, separate, etc.) and availability (widely recycled, check local recycling, not yet recycled, etc.).